IRFU come out fighting after 'inaccurate' accusation over Sexton welfare
THE IRFU last night took the unprecedented step of issuing a statement defending Joe Schmidt's decision to select Johnny Sexton for this evening's key Six Nations clash with France.
In the face of criticism from former France international and author Laurent Benezech, who claimed yesterday that the coach had "no interest" in the player's health, the Union stressed that the 29-year-old fly-half has not had the symptoms associated with concussion for two months as he prepared to make his return to action having been stood down for 12 weeks after suffering his fourth head injury of 2014 last November.
The statement read: "Player welfare is the primary concern of the Ireland medical and management team. All of the medical experts directly involved in the management of Johnny Sexton are satisfied that he is fit to return to the field of play.
"In light of some disappointing and inaccurate commentary in the media by individuals with no medical expertise, the IRFU would like to clarify some facts."
The statement then outlined that the player had been passed fit by the Union's own doctors, the doctors of the French rugby union, Racing Metro's doctors and independent neurologists in Ireland and France.
While the injury has been a hot topic both here and in France, where Les Bleus coach Philippe Saint-Andre and Sexton's Racing team-mate Bernard Le Roux have declared their intention to target the No 10, Ireland captain Paul O'Connell says the team will make no special provisions to protect the Dubliner.
And he said Sexton would remain a defensive leader against the physical French.
"The way we defend, you have to make you own tackles. If someone comes into your channel you have to make your own tackles," O'Connell said. "Everyone all across the park, 1-15, is expected to make your own tackles.
"It is the last thing he would want to think or he would want said about him. Johnny is very enthusiastic about 'D', about line-speed, about knowledge of your roles, you know he is a bit of a leader.
"He is a leader in every regard but particularly in that regard. The No 10 channel is something that is always attacked."
Sexton's return, along with Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip, has added some serious weight to O'Connell's leadership corps after he was surrounded by relatively new faces in Rome, and he accepted that their presence eases his burden as skipper.
"It certainly makes things easier," he said.