The absence of Johnny Sexton from the Irish ranks on Saturday may not be mourned by a France side looking for their first win of this Six Nations but his arrival at Racing Metro next season has been warmly welcomed by one of his new team-mates, Maxime Machenaud.
The France scrum-half, who is likely to start on the bench behind Morgan Parra in Dublin, insisted the Leinster man’s arrival was a massive coup for Racing, currently sixth in the Top 14.
“It is very exciting for us. It’s always enjoyable to play with a player like that. He’s someone who is a bit of a world star,” he said. “He’s managed to play pretty well for Ireland and he’s young too. I think he’ll bring a lot to the team at Racing.”
Sexton, who has been ruled out of Saturday’s game because of the hamstring injury he picked up in the defeat against England, turned down a lucrative deal with the IRFU to stay in Ireland. He is believed to have already signed a three-year deal worth €600,000 a year although the club is unlikely to comment officially until April 20.
Sexton’s imminent arrival coupled with the failure of the French team has sparked further debate over the benefit of having so many overseas players taking on key positions within the clubs and Keith Wood is the latest to weigh into the debate.
“The Top 14 is going to kill the France team,” he told French rugby newspaper Midi-Olympique. “French rugby has to impose some limits. There are too many foreigners.”
The Munster man admitted he was sorry to see Sexton leaving Ireland but understood why the 26-year-old is packing his bags.
“You only live once,” said Wood. “He is going to live an unforgettable experience in Paris. A few years ago Brian [O’Driscoll] met Marcel Martin [then president of Biarritz]. The transfer didn’t happen but I know that he regrets it today.”
Machenaud, though, denied that Sexton’s arrival was bad for French rugby.
“It is bad when we get average players coming over and taking the places of Frenchmen who are just as good. But when you get superstars like Jonny Wilkinson or Jonny Sexton coming over, then this is only good for the game here.”
His France half-back partner François Trinh-Duc, who plays for Montpellier, also welcomed the arrival of Sexton.
“It’s good for the French championship that top No 10s like Sexton come to play in the league,” he said. “It’s a bit like a world championship in the Top 14. It’s a good thing.”
Both players admitted winning in Dublin would be a major result for a France team that have lost their first three games in the championship for the first time since the Five Nations of 1982.
“Ireland at home is always difficult,” said Trinh-Duc. “They’re a team that demands a lot of fight. They’re very active at the breakdown, they tackle high to bring moves to an end. We’re going to have to be spot on with the basics and in support because we cannot afford to leave players isolated.”
Machenaud is hoping the pressure of two consecutive defeats will tell on the Irish. “I don’t think they have much room for error,” he said. “They’re playing at home and they’ll be trying to make up for the game against Scotland. I think it’ll be a nice duel and a good battle.”
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