Johnny Sexton has admitted he fully expects France to try to blast him out of Sunday’s crucial World Cup clash by ordering freight-train centre Mathieu Bastareaud to steamroller him.
Fly-half Sexton has urged Ireland to produce the best performance of Joe Schmidt’s coaching tenure to beat the French and tee up a World Cup quarter-final against Argentina.
France sent Toulon battering-ram Bastareaud straight down Sexton’s channel in February’s Six Nations clash, with the playmaker only just back after a three-month concussion lay-off.
Ireland choke-tackled Bastareaud out of the equation to win 18-11 in Dublin that night, and will demand more of the same to chase victory in Cardiff on Sunday that would allow Schmidt’s men to avoid the All Blacks’ half of the draw.
“He’s a hard man to stop and I know it better than most,” said Sexton of Bastareaud.
“I’ve come off second-best a couple of times but he sucks in a lot of defenders and he looks like he’s got himself in really good shape.
“It’s the same for all their players, I think they possess power all across their backline and pace to burn as well.
“So we’ve got to be on top of our game from that point of view, and I’m sure we’ll come up with some kind of plan to help us stop him.
“They said before the last game they were going to come down my channel because I was obviously coming back from a lay-off, and I don’t see it being any different this time.
“You always want to target the opposition 10 and I’m sure they’ll go there again.
“I don’t know if I like the physicality, but it’s part and parcel of the modern game.
“Everyone on the pitch has got to be able to contribute defensively and physically, and it’s not often you see guys that can’t do it any more.
“And hopefully I’ll tick that box.
“He adds an extra dimension to them and I think he’s one of their key ball-carriers.
“He’s a guy that we’re going to have to pay close attention to but if we think about him too much then guys like (Wesley) Fofana and (Brice) Dulin will run off him and find those holes, so we’ve got to make sure we’re paying him the respect he deserves.
“They’ve got players across the park that can hurt us so we’ve got to be a hell of a lot better than we were (in the 16-9 victory over Italy on Sunday).”
Ireland expect Jared Payne to beat his foot problem in time to contest selection for Sunday’s France battle, despite the Ulster centre still employing a compression boot to speed his recovery.
Sexton spent a mixed two years at Racing Metro but has now rejoined home province Leinster.
The 30-year-old used his window into the ever-complex French psyche to warn Ireland that Philippe Saint-Andre’s side are determined to peak at global gatherings.
New Zealand edged out France 8-7 in the 2011 World Cup final, and that after Les Bleus forced a revolt against then-coach Marc Lievremont.
“Yes we probably do need the best performance of Joe’s time to win this weekend,” said Sexton.
“What I did get from them is that the World Cup is huge over there.
“The Six Nations is almost like a burden on them in the middle of a Top 14 season, that’s the kind of impression that I got, that it almost disrupts their league season.
“And then it comes to a World Cup it’s almost like they build for this, it’s like they use players through the Six Nations year on year to have a big playing pool for the World Cup.
“And you can see from their previous results, how many semi-finals and finals they’ve been in.
“Arguably they should have won the last World Cup and they were in turmoil in the group stages.
“So we’ve got to be aware of all these things and realise them but at the same time we know we’ve got to concentrate on ourselves because if we get our performance right we can be a good team.”
The Irish Examiner's Rugby Correspondent Simon Lewis gives his views on Ireland after their RWC clash with Italy at the Olympic Stadium.
Video by Dan Linehan.