Johnny Sexton won’t be the chief target on French radar, says forwards coach Yannick Bru

Johnny Sexton? Our French friends aren’t all that bothered apparently.
Johnny Sexton won’t be the chief target on French radar, says forwards coach Yannick Bru

Ireland’s fit again out-half was an obvious talking point at yesterday’s pre-match press events at the Aviva Stadium, what with the physical punishment meted out to him in times past by today’s opposition and all.

But French forwards coach Yannick Bru was a portrait of Gallic insouciance.

“That information didn’t change anything for us,” he said. “(Paddy) Jackson played well in the first two games and we know Johnny Sexton. Of course it’s not good news for us but we’re ready to face him and, in fact, we don’t really care who will be the fly-half in the opposition.

“We focus on our gameplan and we’re physically ready.”

The French had targeted Sexton before, Bru admitted, but that had been a mistake.

“So we won’t make that mistake twice.”

He neglected to mention specifically when that targeting had occurred and heaven knows the list of possibilities is long given the Leinster ten has failed to finish any of his four games against the French since his last 80 minutes opposite them back in 2012.

Step back to 2014 in Paris and he was knocked cold by Mathieu Bastareaud. Bernard le Roux advised him to wear a helmet a year later when he left the field for a spell with a bloody nose and he lasted just 26 minutes of the World Cup clash after being emptied by Louis Picamoles.

This time last year and the Irish out-half was contending with an almost comically late elbow from Yoann Maestri that was somehow deemed worthy of a penalty but not a card - the citing commissioner ultimately deemed it to be an action “just short of warranting a red”.

“He was pretty knocked around at the end of the game,” said Joe Schmidt that day.

If Bru is to be believed then the dominant source of conversation in the French camp this last week has been the frankly world-class back row of Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien and CJ Stander.

This, he said, is where the “force” of the Irish team resides. “They play fast and well,” he explained. “They have speed, skill, they’re fast. They don’t make many mistakes and when you work with that intensity in the game there’s always a good performance.

“We will try to defend against them with our defence, we know it will be a big challenge in the game.”

Until now, French players had to juggle the demands of the national team and their clubs through the Six Nations. The French side that ran New Zealand, Australia and England close will be fitter and fresher than we’ve seen for some time.

“That makes us think we will be better than last season,” said Bru. “With the intensity of the international games, we know it’s important for the guys to rest after two rounds.

“And the new convention between the federation and the league allows us to rest the guys. So we had the opportunity for the first time in a long time to be fresh the whole week

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