Six Nations

Ireland defends Sexton choice

2015-02-13 17:43
Jonathan Sexton. (File)

Dublin - Fly-half Jonathan Sexton has not been rushed back into the starting line-up for Six Nations champions Ireland's game against France on Saturday, says Irish team scrum coach Greg Feek.

Sexton - who was inspirational as Ireland won the Six Nations title last year and recorded memorable wins over South Africa and Australia in November - will play his first competitive game since being stood down for 12 weeks after suffering several concussions last year.

Coach Joe Schmidt insisted on Thursday there was no problem in starting the 29-year-old in a game that he said was a must win if Ireland were to retain their title.

Back to fitness

Feek, while not wishing to comment on remarks made by former France international Laurent Benezech - who told the Irish Times selecting Sexton was a mistake as he would be targeted by massive centre Mathieu Bastareaud - said there was no way they would risk their star fly-half unnecessarily.

"We've got brilliant medical and conditioning staff," said the 39-year-old Feek, a former All Blacks prop.

"What is the right game to start a player who is coming back?

"He (Sexton) has worked really hard and done wonders to get back to fitness and it is a credit to him.

"Obviously we have also had to measure whether he has not been rushing it."

Ireland captain Paul O'Connell, who will win his 98th cap for his country, said it was terrific to have a player of Sexton's experience back in the line-up and added it would be no surprise if he were to be targeted.

"His injury has helped him have a mini pre-season really and freshen his mind and also look after his hamstring," said O'Connell, who experienced his first away win over the French in great style last year as the 22-20 victory also secured them the Six Nations championship.

"To have a player of his experience back is super. He is a great player and he knows what Joe wants.

Improve on opening match

"I played for years in teams with Ronan O'Gara (Sexton's predecessor as fly-half) and the focus from our opponents was on attacking the fly-half because he is the playmaker.

"It is nothing new."

O'Connell, who is bidding to lead Ireland to their ninth successive test win, said contrary to the poor reviews for France's 15-8 victory over Scotland last Saturday he thought the present French side could be as good as any he had faced.

"Potentially they are as good as any French side as we have played," said the iconic Munster lock, who admitted the Irish had to improve on their opening 26-3 win over Italy.

"In terms of natural talent, skill and pace they have it all. Joe (Schmidt) is especially keen on (wing) Yoann Huget. But to be honest they have great players all over the pitch.

"It will be a massive task for us, it always is."

Read more on:    six nations  |  jonathan sexton  |  ireland  |  rugby

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