Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Sexton: Schmidt is the best coach

Ireland boss Joe Schmidt believes his side can claim a rare win in Paris to claim the RBS 6 Nations title

Joe Schmidt can spearhead an RBS Six Nations title drive against France to "eclipse" Ireland's only win in Paris for 42 years, according to Johnny Sexton.

Fly-half Sexton hailed boss Schmidt as "the best coach around" and is confident the New Zealander can inspire Ireland's first win in France since 2000.

Brian O'Driscoll's stunning hat-trick from that 27-25 still resonates, with Ireland unable to repeat that winning feat for a generation.

The 35-year-old centre will make his 141st and final Test appearance at the Stade de France on Saturday, with Ireland in pole position to sweep the Six Nations title should they subdue their hosts.

Racing Metro playmaker Sexton believes an Ireland win would surpass the achievements of O'Driscoll and captain Keith Wood's 2000 vintage, a first Six Nations title since 2009 adding extra weight.

"I think we've got the best coach around; I think we're going to go in with a game plan that everyone trusts," said Sexton.

"I think we're full of confidence, we think that we can go there and do the job.

"We don't get too bogged down in 'we haven't won there for this long, we haven't done this or that, so on'.

"We'll be very much focused on how we'll beat them with our attacking moves, with the defence we use on the day.

"The history will be talked about by everyone else, and I think it's better like that for us."

Ulster wing Tommy Bowe has been released for club duty this weekend after training with Ireland on Monday.

Cian Healy is now expected to make a full recovery from the ankle problem he suffered against Italy, while Peter O'Mahony is back to full fitness after hamstring trouble.

Relishing the challenge of facing the French in the city that homes his Top 14 club side, Sexton said head coach Schmidt knows how to alleviate big-game pressure.

Sexton won two Heineken Cups, a RaboDirect PRO12 title and the Amlin Challenge Cup under Schmidt's Leinster stewardship.

Now the 28-year-old is confident the schoolteacher turned international coach can deliver again.

"Sometimes when you go into finals, you get so worried about the result that you lose track of what got you there in the first place," said Sexton.

"It will be very much performance-driven.

"From having worked with all the coaches here before, especially with Joe, having played European finals and Rabo finals, it'll be very much focused on the performance.

"Even though it's a winner-takes-all, it's very much the same as usual.

"It just shows how difficult it is to go and win there; that's all it shows us.

"It means if we go and win, we'll have earned it and it'll be something to remember.

"We've a chance to go and make history now.

"It would eclipse what they did in 2000, because there's a trophy on the line."

Sexton expects to have to strap his thumb for match action for the rest of the season, as he continues to recover from ligament damage.

The 42-cap outside-half warned Ireland not to let France's inconsistency lull them into a false sense of security.

"We have to be wary of this French team," said Sexton, aware that France can still claim the Six Nations crown for themselves.

"We just had a look at their player profiles, their individuals, and it's pretty impressive, no matter what position you look in.

"We don't know what team they're going to pick, but they're going to be very dangerous.

"I don't think they'd be delighted with the way they've performed, but at the end of the day they're coming into a cup final this weekend.

"They've a championship to play for, the same as us.

"They haven't set the world alight like we know they can, but we have to be ready for the chance that they do it this weekend.

"They've individuals across the park so you just can't write them off."

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