Monday 19 February 2018

Johnny Sexton and Sean O'Brien "raring to go" ahead of French test

Michael Verney

Irish kicking coach Richie Murphy has declared Sean O'Brien and Jonathan Sexton are 'raring to go' ahead of the Valentine's Day clash with France at the Aviva Stadium.

Speaking at the team's training base in Carton House, the kicking guru announced that both Sexton and O'Brien, as well as Jamie Heaslip, Isaac Boss and Dave Kearney, took full part in this morning's session.

Murphy was very upbeat about the prospect of Ireland being able to pick from a full deck for Saturday's second-round tie with only Rory Best, who is currently on the Return to Play programme, listed as a doubt and he will be assessed on Wednesday evening.

Murphy said of O'Brien: "It's a concern that he's been out for so long but it's not as if he hasn't been doing the fitness work.

"I think he's fitter than he has been for a long while, he looks very sharp and it's just a matter of seeing where he is at the end of the week."

Of Sexton, Murphy reported that he has been "itching to play" and that despite the 12-week layoff he has very few worries about his ability to perform at the highest level this weekend.

"He's been a little frustrated the last couple of weeks but he's got the all clear now and he's raring to go," he said.

"It's a big test for him but the big benefit he has is that he's been training and he has his eye in. He's been doing a lot of skill work and all the non-contact work.

"It's not as bad as someone coming back from an injury where they haven't been able to touch the ball, I think he'll be ready to go."

Read more: Marty Moore looking to right some wrongs against France

Murphy, who works closely with Sexton and Ian Keatley, is happy with how his kicking has progressed in training and doesn't feel the lack of game time will impinge on his accuracy on the big stage.

"We've done a nice bit of kicking and it's gone well, he seems to be in a very good position. He hasn't taken any match kicks but he but we're confident in his ability."

Read more: Five French stars who could leave Ireland's Six Nations title hopes in tatters

Murphy stressed the importance of an accurate, tactical kicking game against a 'dangerous' French back three but was non-committal on whether Sexton would start at number 10 saying a decision would be made later in the week.

"I think the kicking game has to be spot on. Whether it's Conor, Rob from the back or Johnny, if you kick and your chase line isn't good their back three will punish you. They're all strong, well-balanced runners who pose a massive threat."

Murphy warned that Ireland, who have never beaten the French in the Aviva and have recorded only one win in their last seven competitive outings against Philippe Saint-Andre's side, must react to the various challenges they will encounter Saturday. 

Read more: Sean O'Brien facing fitness race as Jamie Heaslip and Johnny Sexton return for France crunch

On possible changes in the French out-half pairing and the introduction of Morgan Parra, Murphy said: "Whoever they do actually pick we're going to have to be on our toes and ready to counteract them."

Ireland have a day off to tomorrow before returning to training at the Kildare venue on Thursday morning as they bid to make it two wins from two in the 2015 Six Nations.

Read more: Tony Ward: Jordi Murphy is the man to counter French power game

Murphy believes there's more to come from this Irish side after the Italy win and hopes the players can raise the tempo to the required level against the talented French.

He said: "I think there is more to come from us. Italy was good but we need to tighten up and that started yesterday. The players have been really good, really focused in training and the intensity has been really high."

Star winger Tommy Bowe echoed his sentiments and believes that the attitude of head coach Joe Schmidt demands top-class performance from his side.

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