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Ireland captain Rory Best hails Paris hero Sexton as ‘world class’

By Jonathan Bradley

Ireland skipper Rory Best hailed Johnny Sexton as “world-class” after the outhalf stole victory for Ireland in their Six Nations opener in Paris.

Joe Schmidt’s men sealed just their third win in the French captial since 1972 thanks to a glorious drop goal by Sexton in the 83rd minute, snatching a 15-13 win right at the death.

A win in their opening fixture of the championship for the first time since 2015, the dramatic victory sets Ireland up well in a competition where three of their four remaining games are now in Dubin.

“We are extremely lucky in Ireland with the fly-halves we have had over the years,” said Best, who has also played alongside the likes of David Humphreys and Ronan O’Gara in his career.

“I wouldn’t say we put Johnny in prime position to make that kick, but we put him in a position. That’s why he is world class.

“He drives us on. He drives the standards with the rest of the senior players and he is a joy to play with.

“He just will not accept defeat. We were far from perfect, but to come away from Paris with a win is something you have got to be proud of.”

The nerve-shredding, come-from-behind triumph saw Ireland move through 41 phases after Iain Henderson claimed the 22 drop-out following a missed penalty from the French.

The nerve-shredding, come-from-behind triumph saw Ireland move through 41 phases after Iain Henderson claimed the 22 drop-out following a missed penalty from the French.

To hold on to the ball for that long while maintaining accuracy, to say nothing of the Sexton-Keith Earls combo on a majestic cross-field kick, was something that greatly impressed Best, who by this stage had been replaced by his deputy Sean Cronin.

"It's a mixture of relief and elation," he said on the immediate aftermath. "We probably didn't deserve to lose that game, but this is Six Nations rugby and fine margins, and sometimes you don't get necessarily what you deserve.

"Credit to the boys that finished that game out. To claw our way back to put us in a position to hit that drop goal was fantastic. It goes to 80 minutes and you know that's it if you make a mistake.

"There were some unbelievable carries, some unbelievable cleanouts, some unbelievable execution with the cross-field kick and catch... little moments like that probably define who you are."

Coach Joe Schmidt is expected to make some changes to his side this week after a brutal 80 minutes against France.

Josh van der Flier is definitely out after suffering a knee injury during the first half, with Dan Leavy primed to take his place. Schmidt may add either Jack O'Donoghue or Sean Reidy to the squad today.

It would be no surprise to see Jack McGrath and Devin Toner rotated into the team, while Rob Herring and Kieran Marmion may see action off the bench.

Fergus McFadden applied some heat on Jacob Stockdale with an excellent cameo of the bench, while this always looked the likely week for Jordan Larmour to make his debut if it's to happen in this window.

But Schmidt won't want to wield his axe too much - momentum is key and this team need to play their way into form.

If they can put it all together and maintain their structure, they are a good team.

Belfast Telegraph

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