Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell backs Johnny Sexton to stand firm

Johnny Sexton has been backed to stand firm amid France's latest intimidation tactics - even though Les Bleus insist they will not even target Ireland's fit-again fly-half.

Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell (pictured) tipped Sexton to relish the latest in a long line of physical battles with the French, whose forwards coach Yannick Bru then promptly rejected a repeat of that bullying approach.

Former hooker Bru had promised Les Bleus would not target Sexton ahead of the 2015 Six Nations clash in Dublin - a vow that then went spectacularly unheeded as the Leinster fly-half wound up with a black eye so severe he could hardly see.

The Ireland and French teams arrive at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin for today's six nations match. Video by Dan Linehan @lensdan.

Ireland fully expect France to extend their targeting of Sexton in today's Six Nations showdown, but Farrell remained unfazed by that prospect.

"Johnny's got plenty of energy in defence hasn't he?" said Farrell.

"The 10 has got such a responsibility to run the attack, but the way he shows such big commitment in defence as well, it speaks volumes for him as a person.

"Johnny brings that line speed and energy week to week, and he's certainly excited about getting back amongst it this weekend.

"We talk about detail and how smart we can be in defence, but ultimately if we can't back that up with a bit of attitude it all comes to nothing. And that's certainly what Johnny has."

In the build-up to Ireland hosting France in the 2015 Six Nations, Sexton was preparing to return from a 12-week concussion lay-off - and even then Bru claimed Les Bleus would change tack and leave him alone.

Back in 2015 Bru said: "We respect him but to target him would be to forget that Joe Schmidt is very clever, so we will play as if Johnny wasn't there."

Sexton promptly wound up with that nasty black eye, but also the last laugh as Ireland prevailed 18-11. Joe Schmidt's men will be hoping for more of the same on the result front on Saturday with Sexton fit to return after calf trouble.

Sexton was knocked unconscious but scored two tries when Ireland triumphed 22-20 in Paris to land the 2014 Six Nations title.

The 31-year-old copped yet more special attention when Ireland won out 24-9 in the 2015 World Cup - and was taken out by Yoann Maestri's cynical late hit in France's 10-9 win in Paris in last year's Six Nations.

None of that narrative dissuaded Bru from again claiming France will leave Sexton alone however.

"Each time we've wanted to target him we've made big mistakes," said Bru. "We didn't really work or speak about Sexton."

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