Sunday 22 April 2018

Schmidt stands by 'super' Sexton

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

JOE SCHMIDT and Leinster were standing behind their man yesterday after Jonathan Sexton came in for criticism for his role in Ireland's defeat to Wales on Sunday.

There have been calls for a change at fly-half for Saturday night's trip to the Stade de France after Sexton missed two penalties, a conversion and a drop-goal in the two-point defeat at Lansdowne Road, but Schmidt hailed his playmaker as "as good as anyone".

The province might have a Pro12 clash with Treviso to look forward to on Thursday, but at this time of year there is only one show in town. The Six Nations dominated the agenda at the province's media gathering ahead of the visit of the Italians, with the recriminations from Sunday's defeat to Wales still rumbling around Clonskeagh.

"He's a super player," Schmidt said of Sexton. "On top of his game he's as good as anyone, certainly in the northern hemisphere. I'm always delighted to see Jonny selected and getting the opportunity at the highest level."

Sexton was heavily criticised for his decision to go for a penalty from inside his own half with seven minutes remaining. Many felt it was out of his range but Ian Madigan -- his Leinster team-mate who practises kicking with him on a daily basis -- felt the effort was manageable for a player of Sexton's quality.

"He has made them before," Madigan said. "Jonny's a very accomplished kicker and I know he came in for a lot of criticism on Sunday, but he knows exactly how far he can hit the ball from and, in my view, he can probably hit them from 55 metres.

"Before he took the kick, watching at home, I thought he was going to get it so it was well within his range."

While most of the country is fearful of Ireland's chances in Paris on Saturday, Schmidt is positive that things can be turned around.

"I know a lot of the French players very well and I think people can get carried away by that 30-12 scoreline (against Italy)," he said. "There were some very good individual tries, but not a massive collective effort from France. I think Italy would have gone away disappointed and I know (Azzurri coach) Jacques Brunel spoke of his disappointment after the game.

"Psychologically it can be very hard to pick yourself up, but the players I do know in the Irish camp, I know the resolve and the resilience they have and I'd feel confident you will see a pretty resolute performance. Hopefully it will be enough to get them over the line."

Schmidt shed some light on a coach's perspective on the controversial tip-tackle laws that so dominated the post-match debate after Bradley Jones and Stephen Ferris were yellow-carded for offences at different levels of the scale.

"We all got warned at the start of the season and the warning was very definitive about the red card, that there were no second chances," he said.

"You have to make sure that your players have the awareness that any time they lift in the tackle, there is a serious risk of a serious consequence."

Shane Jennings was yesterday released from the Irish squad ahead of the Treviso match, while Dominic Ryan is back from injury for Leinster. Luke Fitzgerald, Andrew Conway and Mat Berquist remain out.

Irish Independent

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