Monday 23 October 2017

Pumped up Johnny Sexton pointing the way for Joe Schmidt's men

Johnny Sexton makes a point to his team-mates during the captain's run in Paris yesterday (SPORTSFILE)
Johnny Sexton makes a point to his team-mates during the captain's run in Paris yesterday (SPORTSFILE)
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Rory Best will lead Ireland out on to the Stade de France pitch this afternoon but it was Johnny Sexton who was the dominant figure at yesterday's eve of game captain's run in Paris.

The out-half has laid out his own personal motivations for wanting to win in the city where he lived for two years while playing for Racing Metro, and he spoke at length to his team-mates before they trained in the empty 81,000-capacity stadium.

The Leinster out-half will be a key player for Joe Schmidt's side after overcoming a neck injury to play for a team whose bid for a historic third Six Nations title in a row is on the line against an inexperienced French side.

Last week's draw against Wales has tightened Ireland's margin for error and they now need a rare win at the Stade de France to keep their hat-trick dreams alive.

"Johnny has a big role in terms of the fact he runs the game for us anyway," Best said at the pre-game press conference.

"If Johnny knows one of the players personally and someone asked him about it, he's always giving of his time and information. But the pressure's on each player to know, we can't rely on Johnny because he's played in France to help us, we've got to know all of that ourselves.

"He just talked through a few of the plays, things around game-plan. At this stage of the week it's important that it's player-driven. That's what the huddle and the walk around the pitch is all about.

"The coaches have done their bit and it's up to the players now. The coaches can influence tactics, but ultimately it's up to the players that take the field."

Despite losing a 13-point lead, there were enough positives for Ireland to draw comfort from last week's opener, and they have not lost to France in their last five outings.

While Best was on the end of some heavy losses in Paris early in his career, he has been part of a draw and a win on the last two visits and says that there is plenty of belief in the Ireland dressing-room that they can achieve a result.

"When I first started out, for the provinces to win big games in England and France it was kind of a bit of a hope and a prayer," the Ireland captain said.

"You hoped to get across the line or get a bit of luck somewhere, whereas some of the younger generations coming through, they all of a sudden expect to win, it doesn't matter if you're home or away.

"That's the sort of level they expect to be at; Munster did it for years then Leinster took it on and we all pushed each other on. That spreads into the international squad now, especially the last two and a half years under Joe.

"He doesn't expect your performance to dip. Ireland sides were always capable of big, big performances. We'd produce a big performance one week and allow it to drop off the next and it was something that we talked about two and a half years ago, that Ireland were seen as a big performance team but inconsistent.

"That was one of the things we wanted to address first and foremost. It's something that the provinces had before that and that now we've brought in to an international jersey."

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