Wednesday 21 February 2018

Jonny Sexton: Schmidt factor gives us the edge over Les Bleus

Jonathan Sexton touches down for his side's fourth try against Italy
Jonathan Sexton touches down for his side's fourth try against Italy
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Johnny Sexton believes Joe Schmidt can provide Ireland’s X-factor as they go to Paris in search of the Six Nations title.

The Racing Metro out-half knows the French squad better than any Irish player after his nine months in the Top 14 and, while he respects Les Bleus as individuals, he admits they have yet to get going as a team.

However, Ireland’s win in 2000 remains the only victory by the team in 42 years, a fact that is likely to be repeated plenty of times this week.

Sexton won two Heineken Cups, a Pro12 and an Amlin Challenge Cup under the New Zealander and believes his presence will give Ireland the edge at the Stade de France.

“I think we have got the best coach around,” Sexton said. 

“We go in with game plan everyone trusts and we’re full of confidence. We feel can go there and get a result, but we do realise how tough it is going to be.

“We can take confidence from two years ago when we got a draw and probably should have won the game.

“In other games where the lads have gone over either started poorly and finished great or vice versa.

“It is about going over and putting in an 80 min performance, we don’t get too bogged down on the fact that we haven’t won there for so long.

“We’re very much focused on how we’re going to try and beat them with attacking moves. That’s all we are thinking about, we’ll let the history be talked about by everyone else.”

Peter O’Mahony will come into contention for a recall as he returns to training this week, while Cian Healy is set to train with the team tomorrow after injuring his ankle and Conor Murray is over the illness that forced him off prematurely against Italy.

Tommy Bowe, however, has been left in Ulster to continue his rehabilitation from his groin injury. Joe Schmidt had hoped to have the winger available.

The French team have been in enigmatic form this Six Nations and have struggled away from home in particular.

Back on home soil, Sexton is expecting Philipe Saint Andre’s team – who can still technically win the championship – to perform.

“I’m still trying to figure out myself, I think international rugby is a little bit different from the Top 14,” he said of French team’s propensity to play so much better at home.

“People look at the away team’s form in the Top 14 but a lot of teams target specific games there, so there is a lot of games when the squad is so big that teams try and target it.

“We have to be wary, we have looked at their individual player profiles there, they have great strength across the positions so no matter what team they pick, but whoever they do pick they’ll be strong.

“I don’t think they’ll be delighted with how they’ve performed, but at the end of the day it’s a cup final, there’s a championship to be won and in international rugby it is all about results.”

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