Ireland’s half-back combination have been put on a par with New Zealand’s World Cup-winning pair by the man aiming to stop them in Paris on Saturday.
Toulouse scrum-half Jean-Marc Doussain, who has the distinction of being the only player in rugby history to make his Test debut in a World Cup final, raised the stakes ahead of the Stade de France clash by hailing Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton as world-class.
As if to further underline their importance, particularly to a revamped team, Ireland’s number nine and 10 combined to score all their team’s points in the opening weekend 16-16 draw with Wales on Sunday.
“Ireland’s half-backs are superb and on a very high level. When you say ‘Murray-Sexton’, it is just as good as saying ‘Smith-Carter’ and even if Sexton takes a knock and has to leave during a game, there is Ian Madigan on the bench to take over. So Ireland have no worries in that area,” said Doussain.
The Toulouse playmaker has more reason than most to want another crack at the Irish pair.
A late replacement in France’s narrow 23-21 victory over Italy last week, Doussain’s brief appearance still marked a milestone for a player left out in the cold by Guy Noves’ predecessor Philippe Saint-Andre.
Doussain had not appeared for Les Bleus in almost two years since missing a 71st-minute penalty kick to beat Ireland at Stade de France, a game in which Sexton scored two tries in a stunning 17-point solo effort. Now he has a new opportunity with his former Toulouse boss Noves.
“I used that experience to move forward. It did not kill me and I have come back from it. Proof is, I am back in the French selection,” he said.
If the French pack was rattled by Italy, they know what is coming with Ireland having failed to win their last five meetings, including the World Cup tie last autumn, and without a win over the Irish in Paris since 2010. But this is a new French team free of the baggage of the past, including Clermont-Auvergne lock Paul Jedrasiak, a Test debutant last week.
“Ireland is a tough team and they are very good on the maul. But we know them well. We are used to playing them in the European Cup and we have showed that we can be as good as them,” he said.
“Ireland did well against Wales, they can do many phases in a row. It is impressive but we must not see them stronger than they really are. I am not used to admire my opposition. Ireland is a rugby team just like another one.
“We know they won’t make any concessions but I am going to give everything to defend my land. We (the new generation of players Plisson, Bezy, Danty, Bonneval) are ready to give everything, we are ready to bleed for the jersey. We must be aggressive and mark our territory.”
There was one concession by the 23-year-old Frenchman, however, and a nod to an inspiration for any young second-row, regardless of nationality.
“I grew up watching Paul O’Connell on TV. He inspires respect. He did a lot for Ireland and Munster. He was a great player and a great captain.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved