Sunday 21 January 2018

It's a credit to Johnny Sexton that he's 100pc after 12-week lay-off - Greg Feek

13 February 2015; Ireland's Jonathan Sexton stretches before training during the captain's run. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
13 February 2015; Ireland's Jonathan Sexton stretches before training during the captain's run. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Nick Purewal

Johnny Sexton will take France's pledge to exploit any lingering weakness from his 12-week concussion lay-off fully in his stride in Dublin on Saturday, according to Greg Feek.

Former France international Laurent Benezech has labelled Ireland's decision to pitch Sexton straight back into action for Saturday's RBS 6 Nations clash at the Aviva Stadium as "a big mistake".

Scrum coach Feek believes it is "a credit" to Sexton that he is fully fit and itching for a Test return after his elongated absence, caused by four concussions in 12 months.

France flanker Bernard Le Roux has joked his Racing Metro club-mate Sexton should "wear a helmet" in Saturday's Six Nations showdown at the Aviva Stadium.

Les Bleus boss Philippe Saint-Andre was not being light-hearted when pledging to send wrecking-ball centre Mathieu Bastareaud straight down Sexton's channel from the off this weekend however.

"Johnny's selected, he's been keen to play and he's fine," said Ireland scrum coach Feek.

"We don't really comment on outside opinions.

"We've got brilliant medical staff and strength and conditioning staff, and we all work together on that process.

"Then the players themselves are involved in that.

"When is the right time? What is the right game?

"That's the big question-mark.

"We felt this was it. He did everything he needed to do, so it's a credit to the player to be available at this point as well."

Rory Best has been passed fit to face France after remaining free of any concussion symptoms in the 24 hours following his first contact session on Thursday.

Ireland's most-capped hooker was removed as a precaution in the latter stages of last weekend's 26-3 victory over Italy.

Best passed all the return-to-play protocols in midweek but had to tick off the final stage as he only took contact training on Thursday.

Feek hailed 79-cap Best and British and Irish Lions fly-half Sexton for grafting to be mentally and physically ready for Test action this weekend.

"Those guys have worked hard and it's been a long time for some of them that they haven't played," said Feek.

"They are champing at the bit but sometimes you've got to control that too, just make sure you don't rein them in, but let them go."

Former France star Benezech told the Irish Times: "Ireland is in trouble as playing Sexton after what happened to him is a big mistake," over the 29-year-old's return.

Racing Metro and France flanker Le Roux admitted he will be on Sexton's case from the off in Dublin on Saturday, but stressed he was joking when telling Le Figaro: "It is always good to get a knock off your mate. We'll laugh about it after at the club but if I was him I'd wear a helmet."

Independent neurologist Dr Jean-Francois Cherman ruled on Sexton's 12-week lay-off, under the guidelines of French Top 14 governing body Ligue Nationale Francaise (LNR).

Sexton will return to Racing Metro after Saturday's France clash with the hope of facing Clermont Auvergne in French Top 14 action the following weekend.

Should Sexton suffer a concussion against France that case would be handled by the LNR, and most likely Dr Cherman once more.

It remains unclear what length of absence would be determined should Sexton receive another concussion this weekend.

Ireland captain Paul O'Connell hailed 47-cap Sexton as "an incredible player", who will cope with whatever France throw at him on Saturday.

"Johnny's a really good professional, he enjoys his training," said O'Connell.

"While he wasn't able to train very hard in his earlier days of being out, he's treated the break as a bit of a mini pre-season as well.

"He's been able to look after his hamstring and get a bit of weights done, and relax the mind a bit.

"It's great to have him back in the side: he's an incredible player, and he's very aware of how Joe (Schmidt) wants things done having worked under him for a long time.

"I played in a team with Ronan O'Gara for many years where teams knew how important he was to us and always attacked the 10 channel.

"It's every team's focus to attack the 10 channel, it's where a team's playmaker is and it's part and parcel of the game.

"France can attack us anywhere and attacking the 10 channel is nothing new."

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