Thursday 26 April 2018

'Confrontational tackle ability, commitment and general insanity' - Joe Schmidt hails Johnny Sexton

17 March 2018; Jonathan Sexton of Ireland celebrates following the NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium in London, England. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
17 March 2018; Jonathan Sexton of Ireland celebrates following the NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium in London, England. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Nick Purewal

Johnny Sexton's "insanity" to play through any level of pain propelled Ireland to just their third Grand Slam in history, according to Joe Schmidt.

Talisman fly-half Sexton's overtime drop-goal capped a stunning 41-phase move that rescued Ireland a 15-13 victory over France in Paris on the NatWest 6 Nations' opening weekend.

Sexton then suffered a gluteal muscle injury in Ireland's 37-27 win over Wales in round two, and struggled to kick cleanly at goal and perform unimpeded for the remainder of the tournament.

The 32-year-old gritted his teeth and carried on regardless, however, staying the course long enough to drive Ireland to their clean sweep with Saturday's 24-15 victory over England.

Sexton passed a head injury assessment (HIA) in Ireland's triumph despite copping a bloody nose, leaving Schmidt to hail his midfield general once again.

"He actually felt really good today, going into the game," said Schmidt, of Sexton's assorted ailments and running repairs.

"Johnny attracts a fair bit of attention, and he's perfectly happy with that.

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"Some of the attention he brings on himself, trying to smash people back when he's standing on the tryline, making sure they don't get over it. That's how he bloodied his nose in the first place.

"Then he was fine, he was totally coherent, but he was starting to fatigue, for sure, just because of the workload, his confrontational tackle ability, his commitment and general insanity.

"He's such a fantastic contributor to the group. And his intellect, he runs such a sharp game.

"His high kick was pinpoint at the very edge of Rob Kearney's reach to lead to the first try, and he's just such a good decision-maker."

Garry Ringrose, CJ Stander and Jacob Stockdale all crossed for tries as Schmidt's side dug deep at Twickenham to extend their Irish record winning streak to 12 matches.

Ireland became just the second team in history to complete a Grand Slam at Twickenham, emulating the feat last achieved by France in 1981.

Stockdale set a Six Nations-era record with a seventh try in a single championship as Ireland toasted a St Patrick's Day with a difference.

Their second try came courtesy of a set play where tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong popped up in the centres to send Bundee Aki hurtling through the line.

Munster back-rower Stander capped the move by driving against the base of the post to register the try, leaving Schmidt confirming the move as a play specially designed to carve England open.

"We played the identical move against England three years ago in Dublin, and Robbie Henshaw went through and fell over," said Schmidt, referring back to Ireland's 19-9 Six Nations win over England in 2015.

"They are the only two times we've played it. The way they come up defensively we thought it would work again."

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