'He didn't shirk the physical stuff' - Schmidt hails resilient Sexton after dominant Six Nations return
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt praised the impact of his on-field general Jonathan Sexton who made an immediate impact following a month-long injury absence with a consummate display at out-half, scoring 11 Irish points in the 19-9 victory.
“Johnny really controlled the game well, saw space well, took some really good options and as always didn’t shirk the physical stuff," Schmidt said, as he already began eyeing up a wounded Welsh side seeking to bounce back from yesterday’s disappointing home defeat to Scotland.
“I thought he was really positive.
“He varied the game, we varied it in the second-half. We had to get them chasing things rather than chasing us.
“He did it superbly, a couple of great kicks in behind them to keep the pressure on when we didn’t have the ball.
“We aimed to give him 50 or 55 minutes, he had the wind knocked out of him and he had a few minutes rest so we gave him a bit more time,
“Based on experience, it’s not the first time he has come back in after a long absence.
“He prepares well, he is so competitive that he wants to be at his best all the time. He felt fresh, he felt good coming into this. There were long periods in play but it was also stop start at times, frustrating for us but it allowed him to have a breather.
“Players have confidence in him, in his experience, in how he has navigated us around the pitch for so long. It wasn’t easy for him, he worked hard during the week to prepare.
"It was great to have him back and great to see Conor on song in tough conditions when you really needed him.
“We’ve no doubt that Wales will be disappointed with their defeat to Scotland and will be very, very determined by the time we get to Cardiff.
“They lost on the scoreboard but they had two disallowed tries and seemed to be in control at times I saw it. We know how dangerous Scotland can be.
“You don’t go to Cardiff and get anything easy because they take a heck of a lot of pride in ensuring they deliver there. They have super players who can make it difficult for the opposition."
The Kiwi coach was frustrated by the high error count during the absorbing 19-9 victory against the French which nevertheless maintained their title charge, with either England or Scotland, due to clash in a fortnight at Twickenham, set to join Ireland in a final-day shoot-out.
“It was really hard to control the ball,” added Schmidt.
“Even when it wasn’t drizzling, the surface was very greasy. It just meant that what we were endeavouring to do was pretty difficult. It was very, very hard to get anything in behind them.
"There was a lot of guys off their feet off the ruck, guys sweeping the ball out and kicking the ball out. It was a very frustrating first half.
“I’ve admiration for the players, they had to roll their sleeves up, the conditions were wet and slippery and we did well to control the ball but we let it slip a couple of times and fell behind on the scoreboard.
“We got the try we needed after that which gave us confidence to build and keep the pressure on, which we did.
“It was attritional at times and then would develop into this frenzied, lateral game which had everyone gasping at times.”
"We were incredibly frustrated by the scrum as well. We’re a team that plays off more scrums than other team in the Six Nations but I think the French play off the least.
“They were as formidable as we expected them to be, it was hard to win collisions off them and we didn’t want to give them the ball too much because they are incredibly dangerous.”