French wary of Johnny Sexton’s return to fold

A week ago it was the return to France of Vern Cotter that was taxing French minds ahead of their Six Nations opener against Scotland. 

French wary of Johnny Sexton’s return to fold

This week it is the likely return of Johnny Sexton to Irish colours which is causing the headaches as Phillipe Saint-Andre’s side prepare for their trip to Dublin.

His Racing Metro teammate Teddy Thomas needs no reminding of what Sexton will bring to the Irish team.

“He is a complete player,” says the 21-year-old. “He always seems to have solutions inside and outside. He understands better than most the angles of attack. We are going to have to defend extremely well in Dublin.”

Critics of Sexton may suggest he hasn’t had the desired effect on a Racing team that is still promising more than it delivers, although injuries have certainly played their part. But his obvious quality and knowledge of French players makes him a dangerous opponent.

“Johnny Sexton has played in France. He is a great, great player. He knows what it is all about,” said Rory Kockett, who made his first start at scrum-half in the 15-8 win against the Scots in Paris.

“He has a lot of experience and knows our players. That is certainly going to help. But what more can we do other than go with the expectation of playing our best? We will see how it works out on the field.”

Kockott may well be one of the casualties of a fitful opening performance when Saint-Andre names his team to play in Dublin.

Playing behind a pack that struggled to provide clean ball, the South African-born player was more subdued than normal with no menacing chemistry with out-half Camille Lopez.

Morgan Parra, a 55th minute replacement, seems likely to take over in the starting line-up to form a Clermont crux of Damian Chouly at number eight, Parra at nine and Lopez at 10. Parra is still some way from his sniping best but this combination may be the key to setting him on the right path.

Another endangered South African is Scott Spedding whose performance at full-back was also under the spotlight.

If Brice Dulin, another of Sexton’s teammates at Racing Metro, is deemed to be fully fit then he will likely take over to add a dash of flair to a backline that needs to find a spark.

There will certainly be a change in the French front row with Toulon loosehead Alexandre Menini out with a foot injury. Saint-Andre has called the experienced Clermont prop Vincent Debaty into the 30-man squad.

Debaty is perhaps the only Belgian to be playing at such a high level, his good mood on his return to the squad buoyed by the news that his old club Royal Kituro had scored a record 365-3 victory over Soignies at the weekend.

“I first played for Kituro when I was 15, we were a good side, we won a lot of matches but we never managed anything like that,” he said.

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