Sunday 21 January 2018

Paul O'Connell on France targeting Sexton: I played with ROG and teams always attacked the 10

Paul O'Connell has no concerns over the fitness of Jonathan Sexton.
Paul O'Connell has no concerns over the fitness of Jonathan Sexton.
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

The Ireland team and management have reiterated their faith in Johnny Sexton’s ability to come through his return to action against France.

The Racing Metro fly-half has been stood down by doctors since suffering a concussion at the November win over Australia, his fourth in 2014.

He was granted a return to play by his neurologist Dr Jean-Francois Cherman last week and trained fully at Carton House this week.

France have stated their intention of going after the Ireland fly-half, with flanker Bernard Le Roux warning his clubmate he would want to wear a helmet.

Questions linger over what would happen if the 29-year-old was to suffer another head injury, with the French Top 14 rules stipulating he would be stood down for a further 24 weeks, but the Ireland management say he has been cleared to play, so he’ll play while Rory Best is in a similar boat having not shown any symptoms since being concussed early in the second-half of last weekend’s win over Italy.

“We’ve got brilliant medical staff, brilliant strength and conditioning staff and we all work together,” scrum coach Greg Feek said.

“What is the right time, the right game? We felt this was it, it’s a credit to the player to be available. They’re itching at the bit, we have to make sure you don’t rein them in.”

Captain Paul O’Connell said he is not worried about his out-half.

“He’s a really good professional, he enjoys his training and while he has treated the break as a bit of a mini-pre-season, work on his hamstring and stuff like that,” he said after today’s Captain’s Run.

“I played with ROG (Ronan O’Gara) for many years and teams always attacked the 10 channel, it’s always a focus and it’s part and parcel of the game. France can attack you anywhere.”

The Ireland squad trained in the rain at the Aviva Stadium this morning and everyone came through unscathed.

While Philippe Saint-Andre’s side have been roundly criticised at home after their tryless win over Scotland last weekend, O’Connell is expecting a step-up.

“We’ve done analysis on them and they’ve fantastically talented players who have a licence to play and have a crack as we’ve seen throughout the autumn,” he said.

“They’ve mauled really well in recent months in particular, last week their maul was excellent. “They’ve a big, strong pack, very athletic, good set-piece, I played against Damien Chouly for Clermont and he was excellent.

“So, they have unpredictability on top of a good set piece.

“We analyse and prepare for the very best of what France are going to bring. That’s all we look at all week, we’re preparing for their best lineout, scrum, maul ; their unpredictability in attack, their kicking game.

“That’s what lads are set up for, what we’re training for.”

Read more: Sean O'Brien: If it was France last week I would have played

Read more: Jack McGrath hoping to exorcise French 'demons'

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