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Six Nations: France bullying tactics do not affect us says Devin Toner

By Jonathan Bradley

With France's apparent targeting of Jonathan Sexton drawing criticism in the days since Ireland's 10-9 defeat in Paris over the weekend, Devin Toner insists the back-to-back Six Nations champions never considered fighting fire with fire.

Sexton, one of Joe Schmidt's key contributors during the Kiwi's two-and-a-half year reign, was forced off late in the piece on Saturday but it was an earlier shot off the ball from Yoann Maestri that had Irish blood boiling.

In isolation, it was an incident that surely warranted a yellow card from match referee Jaco Peyper but, viewed as part of a wider trend, the tackle takes on a more sinister appearance.

Since Sexton moved to Racing 92 in time for the 2013-14 season - the 30-year-old spent two mixed years with the Parisian club before returning to Leinster in the summer - he has been forced off through injury on multiple occasions when facing Les Bleus.

This time last year, he returned in time to face France after being stood down for 12 weeks due to concussion with the pre-match build-up marred by distasteful comments from Bernard Le Roux, then a Top 14 team-mate, stating that he should wear a helmet for his comeback.

Having already felt the full force of over-sized centre Mathieu Bastareaud in 2014, and then Louis Picamoles at last year's World Cup, Maestri's tackle was the latest indication that France's game-plan when facing Ireland is to knock Sexton out of the game.

The 61-times capped Dubliner appeared frustrated when replaced by Ian Madigan on Saturday but Toner says Ireland wouldn't resort to tactics of retaliation.

"He's never happy having to come off," said the lock of his Leinster team-mate. "He's a proud character. We weren't saying anything (during the game about his treatment).

"Everyone just focuses on their own roles and tries to get them right. The temptation is always there (to retaliate) but we pride ourselves on discipline.

"Refs view us as a well disciplined team. If you react, there are cameras everywhere. We're not that sort of team."

In what was a lengthy injury update given by Schmidt yesterday, he intimated that Sexton's ailments were improving and he was not included among players that are definitely out for the trip to face England in Twickenham at the end of the month.

The head coach said: "It's Jonathan's neck and shoulder, it's a kind of whiplash injury. He is feeling a lot better."

Former RTE pundit George Hook, who has called for Sexton to retire recently, said over the weekend that the St. Mary's man should not be risked against the English.

"I will be so angry if Sexton plays (against England)," said Hook. "He should go away and rest. He should talk to his wife and parents."

Sexton was also forced off against Wales in the opening round draw, with Hook displeased that Schmidt was able to so definitively declare that his fly-half would be available to face France.

"Within an hour after the Wales match ending Joe Schmidt said Sexton would be fit for France," Hook said.

"Joe Schmidt is a coach not a doctor so how did he know?

"During the week, Richie Murphy (Ireland skills coach) came out and said Sexton had a shoulder injury.

"Sexton came out himself and said he received a bang to the head which had compressed his neck - and he is playing six days after that!"

The failure to censure Maestri was not the only reason for Irish complaints - Dave Kearney was hit high by French captain Guilhem Guirado and forced off with a shoulder injury that rules him out of the next game - and for the second week in succession there were issues with penalties come scrum time.

While leaving the dealings with Peyper up to his captain Rory Best, Toner said Ireland rely on referees to hold the opposition in check.

"I don't have much interaction," he said. "I think we had our homework done well. One thing we were trying to focus on was painting good pictures. I think we're a disciplined team.

"We don't give away a lot of penalties and I think referees know that. We rely on them to do their homework on us, to see how we're going as a team."

Belfast Telegraph


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