Schmidt hails playmaker Sexton

Sun, 26 Feb 2017 08:29
Large johnny sexton ireland breaks 2017 800

SIX NATIONS REACTION: Johnny Sexton's masterful performance in returning from a five-week injury break to steer Ireland to a 19-9 win over France came as no surprise to coach Joe Schmidt.

The 31-year-old flyhalf kicked 11 points to keep Ireland's Six Nations title hopes alive and will be expected to do it all again against Wales in a fortnight.

Victory in Cardiff against a Wales side whose title hopes disappeared with a 13-29 defeat by Scotland on Saturday could set up a potential title-decider against defending champions England in Dublin next month.

Eddie Jones' defending Grand Slam champions play Italy at Twickenham on Sunday and then host the resurgent Scots in Dublin next month.

"Based on experience it is not the first time he [Sexton] has done it. He prepares incredibly well and has such a competitive edge. It is great to have someone who everyone has confidence in, he makes a call and everyone backs him.

"He has never navigated us around the pitch as well as he did today for a while," Schmidt said.

Schmidt explained how he had been able to give British and Irish Lions playmaker Sexton, who has not completed 80 minutes since last October, a little more time than he intended.

"The stop-start nature of the game, when there were several scrums at a time, allowed him a bit of a breather. He was really, really positive in a measured way. He varied the game especially in the second half because we felt we couldn't use ourselves up too much and instead tire them out.

"It allowed us to keep the pressure on, plus he never shirks his defensive duties. We aimed to keep him on till the 55th minute at the latest but as he had a two-and-a-half minute break after a tough hit we kept him on," he added.

Schmidt, bidding to deliver Ireland's third Six Nations title in four years, said he was not thinking ahead to the final match with England but admitted it was in Ireland's hands whether that was a title-deciding game.

"Our destiny is in our hands. I think the Championship is super, it is massively intense and we were on the edge of our seats today," he stated.

Schmidt said there would be no question of taking Wales for granted, especially as he felt they had been slightly unlucky against Scotland.

"They lost on the scoreboard but had two tries scratched out. For me, they seemed to have a lot of control of the game and we can testify to how effective the Scots are at finishing.

"You don't go to Cardiff and get anything easy because the Welsh take a heck of a lot of pride in their game and have some super players," Schmidt said.

Agence France-Presse

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SIX NATIONS
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Team P W D L Pts
England 5 4 0 1 19
Ireland 5 3 0 2 14
France 5 3 0 2 14
Scotland 5 3 0 2 14
Wales 5 2 0 3 10
Italy 5 0 0 5 0