Friday 15 December 2017

Joe Schmidt: It will take three players to stop battering ram Bastareaud

Mathieu Bastareaud will test the Irish defence this weekend at the Aviva Stadium.
Mathieu Bastareaud will test the Irish defence this weekend at the Aviva Stadium.

Nick Purewal

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has admitted it could take three players to stop powerhouse centre Mathieu Bastareaud on Saturday while adding he believes there is no risk in starting out-half Jonny Sexton.

Schmidt has pitched Sexton straight into action after a 12-week absence despite France pledging to target the fly-half in Saturday's RBS 6 Nations clash.

Ireland boss Schmidt has defended starting Sexton against France in Dublin immediately after his mandatory three-month lay-off for suffering four concussions in less than a year.

Les Bleus boss Philippe Saint-Andre admitted he will send juggernaut centre Mathieu Bastareaud trucking straight down Sexton's channel from the off - but Schmidt does not anticipate a one-dimensional French threat.

Schmidt admitted Ireland will need three players to fell Toulon's tree-trunk centre, but refused to accept Sexton will be alone in the firing line.

"Their tactics will be whatever they will be and we will look to counter them - and the best place to do that will be Saturday," said Schmidt, refusing to be drawn into a war of words with Saint-Andre.

"I don't think they will deprive themselves of their wide talents, so I think they will mix their tactics up a bit.

"It's as much risk to start Johnny as it is to start anyone else.

"Johnny's very fit, he's done a lot of training with us, he's spent the last 12 weeks training; he just hasn't done any contact.

"He's done plenty of contact this week though and he's primed and ready to go.

"I think he's feeling very fresh, sometimes the reverse can happen when you do a lot of contact and you feel very beaten up."

He added: "Obviously a very, very strong, direct threat for us is Bastareaud.

"The last time we played it took two or three guys to bring him down, and I'm not sure how else you do it to be honest.

"You need one to slow him down a bit, one to grab him low and one to grab him high and you hope you drag him down.

"He is a very powerful player."

Schmidt said he had no qualms selecting hooker Rory Best, who has come through a concussion scare.

Read more: Neil Francis: Not the men they once were but France are still a threat

Ireland's most-capped hooker was removed as "a precaution" in the closing stages of last weekend's 26-3 victory in Italy, but Schmidt said the 32-year-old has passed all the relevant concussion testing.

Sexton is joined by fellow fit-again British and Irish Lions Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip in Ireland's line-up, with Cian Healy on the bench after long-term hamstring trouble.

Flanker O'Brien has his second chance to make his first Test appearance since November 2013, after a hamstring tweak forced him out in the warm-up in Italy last weekend.

Number eight Heaslip is fit again after knee and shoulder problems, while Isaac Boss retains his place on the bench despite Eoin Reddan's return to full fitness.

Read more: Rob Kearney hails Ireland's 'train as you play' mentality

Best will win his 80th Ireland cap against the French provided he does not suffer any concussion symptoms in the 24 hours following Thursday's training session.

"He's totally asymptomatic, he did contact today," said Schmidt.

"He's ticked all the boxes of the protocols of the return to play.

"As long as he remains asymptomatic for 24 hours after today's session he will be fully cleared to play.

"Rory was totally asymptomatic from post-game through to now.

"We just kept both Sean Cronin and Richardt Strauss ready to go because that's the pertinent thing to do.

"With Rory passing all his markers and doing contact today we would predict and are confident he will be available to play."

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