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France will focus on Irish loose-forward trio, says Bru

By Nick Purewal

France will not repeat the mistake of targeting Johnny Sexton in today's Six Nations clash with Ireland in Dublin, according to forwards coach Yannick Bru. Bru claimed Les Bleus lost focus in a host of previous and overt attempts to unsettle Ireland's pivotal playmaker.

The former hooker insisted France will instead be far busier fighting to contain Ireland's marauding loose-forward trio of CJ Stander, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip.

Ireland's fit-again fly-half Sexton could well view Bru's comments as just the latest battle in the long-running phoney war that surrounds France's roughhouse tactics, however.

"Each time we've wanted to target him we've made big mistakes," said Bru. "We didn't really work or speak about Sexton, we've spoken more about Heaslip, Stander and O'Brien.

"We know the big force of that Ireland team, we could see that in Italy, we could see them in Scotland. And Sexton was not there, so we haven't really worried about who would play fly-half for Ireland."

Bru has previous form when it comes to claiming France have learned their lesson on the futility of targeting Sexton.

In the build-up to Ireland hosting France in the 2015 Six Nations, Sexton was preparing to return from a 12-week concussion lay-off - and even then Bru claimed Les Bleus would change tack and leave him alone.

Sexton promptly wound up with a black eye so severe he could hardly see, with France continuing their bullying tactics.

Ireland prevailed 18-11 that day in Dublin, and will now be hoping for more of the same two years on, as Sexton returns from a month-long absence due to calf trouble.

While Sexton can expect more of the same in the physicality stakes, Bru continued to wax lyrical on Ireland's back-row trio.

Stander, O'Brien and Heaslip have impressed across the Six Nations so far, and Ireland this weekend also have fit-again Peter O'Mahony on hand on the bench.

"It's their ability to play fast and well," said Bru of Ireland's back-row's qualities. "They are fast and very skilled and they don't make many mistakes, and when they create that intensity it's always a good performance.

"Since the last World Cup I've had a lot of nightmares about Ireland. We know everything about Ireland. There won't be a lot of surprises but we're ready for the challenge."

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