Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Sexton says Irish can deal with title pressure

Finish the job: Jonny Sexton is desperate to fill a gaping hole in his CV

As the fans streamed away from Lansdowne Road on Saturday still warm from the feelgood factor of a seven-try Irish win and the farewell to Brian O'Driscoll, Eoin Reddan addressed the players in the dressing-room.

The scrum-half reminded the squad that they'd won nothing yet and, indeed, that many of the men in the room lacked international silverware to go with the medals they have picked up at provincial level.

Of course, the post-Grand Slam generation of Irish players didn't need telling.

While O'Driscoll admitted over the weekend that Triple Crowns lost their lustre during the 2000s, the five-year wait for success in the Six Nations means a whole host of stellar internationals have yet to win anything in green.

Hence, for 17 members of Ireland's match-day squad, this weekend represents an opportunity to take a step into Irish rugby immortality.

As Jonathan Sexton admitted yesterday, there is a desperation in the Irish ranks to grab hold of silverware. He has a Lions series win and a host of medals with Leinster, but the Racing Metro fly-half admitted he has one big hole remaining on his CV.

Sexton is at the vanguard of that group of players who have yet to achieve success, having made his debut in the autumn of 2009.

Reddan, Mike Ross, Andrew Trimble, Sean Cronin and Cian Healy have all won 30 or more caps without winning something, while Sean O'Brien and Keith Earls won't get the chance this week. It is a reminder, if any was needed, of the precious nature of Saturday's opportunity.

"The one massive thing missing from most of the guys' CV in there is a trophy of worth to show for wearing the green jersey," the out-half said. "There were a few of words said in the dressing-room afterwards – it would have been easy to get carried away with the send-off for Brian. But there are not a lot of guys there who have won anything in the green jersey. So, it would be great to take that next step, to have something to show for all of the hard work.

"For whatever reason, whether it was because we were underperforming over the last few years, it would be a great thing to win."

That bit of history is one thing to overcome for Ireland, but another is their record in Paris.

Since the 14-9 win in 1972, Ireland have lost to Les Bleus 20 times on French soil, winning once and drawing on their last visit in 2012. Sexton shrugged off the impact of history yesterday and the bookmakers appear to be disregarding it too as they struggle to separate the sides.

But, while current form is a positive indicator, there is a reason behind fact that the 2000 win and O'Driscoll's hat-trick are part of folklore: days like that don't happen too often.

"It was a great victory because we had to wait so long for it. And it is still spoken about," Sexton said. "If we could go and get a win to clinch the Championship it will be an amazing achievement and it will be one that's talked about for many years, I hope.

"That's what you want to be remembered for when you're finished playing rugby, those big games."

* Tommy Bowe will not feature in Ireland's game against France after being released back to the Ulster squad.

The wing scored two tries as he made his return to action after nearly three months out while playing for Ulster against the Dragons last month.

Bowe trained with Ireland last week but team manager Mick Kearney said yesterday he would not feature in Paris.

Peter O'Mahony is expected to be fit after missing the win over Italy at the weekend.

Meanwhile, Sean O'Brien has confirmed that his season is over after an infection complicated his recovery from shoulder surgery.

O'Brien damaged his shoulder in a "freak" incident against Ulster in a Pro12 clash in late December.

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