Tuesday 20 March 2018

Here's Johnny

The Irish players share a light-hearted moment with Johnny Sexton as they wait for the team photograph to be taken at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
The Irish players share a light-hearted moment with Johnny Sexton as they wait for the team photograph to be taken at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

France have learnt from the mistakes of the past and will not get overly caught up on targeting Johnny Sexton as he makes his return today, according to forwards coach Yannick Bru.

All eyes are on the Ireland out-half as he takes the field for the first time in more than a month on the sidelines with a calf injury in today's pivotal Six Nations Round Three clash at the Aviva Stadium.

Sexton has come in for some heavy treatment before and during games against the French in the past, but yesterday the former international hooker said the focus had switched to the dynamic Ireland back-row of CJ Stander, Seán O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip.

"We don't change for Sexton," he said after France trained at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.

"Of course it's not good news for us, but we're ready to face him and we don't really care about who will be the fly-half tomorrow. We're focused on our game-plan and we're excited to play tomorrow. Since the last World Cup I've had a lot of nightmares about Ireland.

"We know how they play, they will have the position and they will make a lot of phases. We're ready to face them, we've worked on defence.

"We're convinced they will challenge us on our ability to be physically ready.

"We know everything about Ireland as they know everything about France. There won't be a lot of surprises but we're ready for the challenge.

"Each time we've wanted to target him we've made big mistakes. We didn't really work or speak about Sexton, we've spoken more about Heaslip, Stander and O'Brien. We know the big force of that Ireland team, we could see that in Italy.

"We could see them in Scotland. Sexton was not there, so we didn't really care about who will play fly-half for Ireland tomorrow."

Ireland's defence coach Andy Farrell has challenged his team to be ready for anything against the French and is confident his defence can handle Les Bleus' wide game.

Ireland are on the back foot in their bid for the Six Nations title after losing their opening game against Scotland and their inability to deal with the Scots' width in Murrayfield played a large part in that defeat.

France will hope to cause similar problems out wide and after improving their performance against a hapless Italian side two weeks ago in Rome, Ireland will learn if they have corrected their issues against a team that is fast-improving.

And Farrell is determined that Ireland will not get hung-up on defending the wide channels because he fears that that would open up the inside for the powerful France pack.

"We did struggle with a bit of width (against Scotland)," Farrell said. "There's always a reason for that and one of the main reasons is what speed's the ball coming at. In attack, you want quick ball and you get the defence on the back foot. In defence, you want to slow ball down and that's entry, whether you can be dominant in your tackles, slow the ball down, it gives you time to get your width back.

"But it isn't just about width. Everyone's obsessed with width but if you get too wide they play through and this French side can certainly play through you as well.

"What we've seen throughout the autumn and in the two games so far is dominant carries with offloads which is short gain and playing through you andto hit you on the counter-attack as well, so we've got to be ready for everything.

"We want to attack with our defence, to get the ball back and score tries through pressure.

"You play what's in front of you and in the Italian game we forced a lot of errors and got a lot of turnover ball from that.

"We're happy with the progress. The French game is a different kettle of fish, we've got to bring our A-game."

Irish Independent

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