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Johnny Sexton can cope with pressure against French

By Nick Purewal

Johnny Sexton can withstand France's merciless all-out assault and will not be bullied into mistakes in tomorrow's vital World Cup battle, according to Joe Schmidt.

Ireland's opponents have vowed to strong-arm Sexton all week in the build-up to tomorrow's Pool D decider at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

Ireland boss Schmidt backed Sexton to shrug off the niggly French rhetoric, after confirming Ulsterman Jared Payne was omitted due to a mixture of lingering foot trouble and Keith Earls' fine form.

Munster flyer Earls will start at outside centre and square up directly to France's juggernaut centre Mathieu Bastareaud.

But Schmidt believes his midfield men can cope with the pressure against Les Bleus in tomorow's clash.

"The last time we played France the first ball they got they came straight down Johnny's channel and made the same sort of noises what they were going to do then," said Schmidt.

"I haven't really seen too much of what has been said this week, but we've got to concentrate on our own battle.

"We are pretty well aware of who was going to be in their team.

"I do know one thing though: Jonathan Sexton will not be found wanting for courage.

"He won't step out of the way, he will put himself in harm's way.

"He is a big, strong lad and I think that gives us confidence that if they do go down that channel, Johnny will be ready for them.

"And the guys coming off the back of the scrum and lineout will connect with him.

"Robbie Henshaw topped our tackle count last week with 16 out of 16 tackles."

And the Ireland boss added: "Within the group they are looking forward to the challenge and they know it will be one heck of a challenge."

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