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Rugby World Cup: Ireland's Jonathan Sexton ready for a rough ride against France

Out-half wants best Schmidt era display against physical France

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 06/10/2015

On the ball: Johnny Sexton is prepared for a battle against French wrecking-ball Mathieu
Bastareaud
On the ball: Johnny Sexton is prepared for a battle against French wrecking-ball Mathieu Bastareaud

Ireland out-half Jonathan Sexton is expecting more special treatment from France in the Millennium Stadium on Sunday but has called on his team-mates to produce the best performance of the Joe Schmidt era in the Pool D decider.

Both teams have qualified for the last-eight but the winner of the clash will top the group, likely avoiding the All Blacks in the quarter-finals and securing an easier passage through the knockout stages.

Ireland have not lost to France since the World Cup warm-ups in 2011 - drawing twice and winning twice in the subsequent Six Nations - but their play-maker has been battered and bruised in those encounters.

Sexton missed the conclusion of Ireland's 2014 championship clincher in Paris after a heavy collision with Les Bleus centre Mathieu Bastareaud and, when returning after a 12-week concussion lay-off in this year's Aviva meeting, there were intimations that Philippe Saint-Andre's gameplan would entail firing his physical side down the Irishman's channel.

"He's a hard man to stop and I know it better than most," said Sexton of his previous meetings with Toulon wrecking ball Bastareaud.

"I've come off second-best a couple of times but he sucks in a lot of defenders and he looks like he's got himself in really good shape.

"It's the same for all their players, I think they possess power all across their backline and pace to burn as well.

"So we've got to be on top of our game from that point of view, and I'm sure we'll come up with some kind of plan to help us stop him.

"They said before the last game they were going to come down my channel because I was coming back from a lay-off, and I don't see it being any different this time.

"You always want to target the opposition 10 and I'm sure they'll go there again.

"I don't know if I like the physicality, but it's part and parcel of the modern game.

"Everyone on the pitch has got to be able to contribute defensively and physically, and it's not often you see guys that can't do it any more. Hopefully I'll tick that box."

Returning to Leinster blue upon the conclusion of this tournament, Sexton's two-year Racing Metro sojourn has given him an insight into the opposing camp and it is not just Bastareaud who the 30-year-old will be keeping an eye on.

"He's a guy that we're going to have to pay close attention to but if we think about him too much then guys like (Wesley) Fofana and (Brice) Dulin will run off him and find those holes, so we've got to make sure we're paying him the respect he deserves," said the St Mary's man in Canary Wharf yesterday.

"They've got players across the park that can hurt us so we've got to be a hell of a lot better than we were (in the 16-9 win against Italy on Sunday)."

Ireland slipped from their recent high standards during Sunday's narrow win over Italy in the Olympic Stadium but Sexton is seeking an improvement back in the Welsh capital.

"We're pretty disappointed with a lot of aspects of our game. In fairness to Italy, they put us under a lot of pressure," he added. "We need to look at ourselves, we made too many unforced errors.

"We made mistakes in defence too, gave away too many penalties in defence, but we're where we wanted to be at the start of the tournament.

"We probably do need the best performance of Joe's time to win this weekend.

"What I did get from them is that the World Cup is huge over there.

"The Six Nations is almost like a burden on them in the middle of a Top 14 season, that's the kind of impression that I got, that it almost disrupts their league season.

"And then it comes to a World Cup it's almost like they build for this, it's like they use players through the Six Nations year on year to have a big playing pool for the World Cup.

"And you can see from their previous results, how many semi-finals and finals they've been in.

"Arguably they should have won the last World Cup and they were in turmoil in the group stages.

"So we've got to be aware of all these things but at the same time we know we've got to concentrate on ourselves because if we get our performance right we can be a good team."

Belfast Telegraph

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