Thursday 19 April 2018

"World-class Ireland in pole-position for Grand Slam" says Frenchman

Ireland are in "pole position" to pull off an RBS 6 Nations Grand Slam, according to France prop Uini Atonio.

Ireland saw off Les Bleus 18-11 in Dublin on Saturday to set up a potential Six Nations decider with England at the Aviva Stadium on March 1.

England eased past Italy 47-17 at Twickenham on Saturday, leaving Stuart Lancaster and Joe Schmidt's sides the only unbeaten teams in the tournament.

Hulking France prop Atonio, the Six Nations' heaviest player at 155kg, clambered off the bench to hand Ireland a second-half fright that ultimately came to nought for Philippe Saint-Andre's men.

The 24-year-old La Rochelle star believed France almost turned the tide against Ireland, but admitted Schmidt's side can now complete a European clean sweep.

"They won the tournament last year, so they are capable of doing that again," Atonio told Press Association Sport.

"And they are in pole position to do the Grand Slam I think.

"To be honest I'm not looking down on them but I hope they could lose one game, because that would still give us a chance of winning the tournament.

"It's such a tough competition, so if you're not on you're a game you're going to lose.

"I know we've still got a chance, but Ireland are the front-runners now.

"All of us front-row replacements came on in the second-half and it's our job to change the pace of the game.

"I think we did that, and Romain (Taofifenua) scored a good try as well.

"If we'd played another 10 minutes we would have won - but hats off to Ireland because they played a great game.

"We saw the way they've played, they've moved up the IRB rankings and they are a world-class team.

"So if you want to beat a world-class team at their home ground then you have to put in a world-class performance.

"We played six or seven out of 10 but you can't beat teams of this level with that.

"We let them in and they played well, structured and they did what they came out to do."

Fit-again fly-half Johnny Sexton scotched overblown fears for his safety with a peerless performance on his return from an enforced 12-week concussion lay-off.

The 29-year-old copped a wide cut and a hefty black eye after two clashes of heads with France's Mathieu Bastareaud, but landed 15 points with the boot in a classy performance.

Flanker Sean O'Brien finally made his first Test appearance for Ireland since November 2013 and two ensuing shoulder reconstruction operations.

The 27-year-old Leinster star has warned Ireland not to view their pivotal clash with England in two weeks as a revenge mission.

Ireland's last defeat came at Twickenham in a 13-10 loss in last year's Six Nations, and O'Brien admitted a bid to settle the scores would only end one way.

"It's not a case of revenge: if you go out looking for revenge, you get bit on the arse.

"It's a case of being composed, measured and making sure we have all our detail in place, and that we're singing off the same hymn-sheet.

"We certainly won't be building the England game up.

"They had a big win and we know all about them from last year and what they bring to the table."

Press Association

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