'Ready to go for 80': Sexton shakes off HIA concerns
SPOTLIGHT: Ireland captain Johnny Sexton said he will be fit for this weekend’s Six Nations match against France before joking that he hoped he had not jinxed himself for the fixture.
The flyhalf has passed a Head Injury Assessment (HIA) and shaken off the effects of a dead leg he suffered during the impressive 34-10 victory over Wales in their tournament opener last Saturday.
The 37-year-old icon has sat out the past two meetings with Les Bleus due to a head injury and hamstring concerns but has given his side a huge boost in what is a clash between the top two sides in the World Rugby rankings in Dublin.
France, though, arrive as the only top-tier side that Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has yet to get the better of since he took over after the 2019 World Cup.
Sexton’s last appearance against them was an unhappy one angrily shaking his head when Farrell took him off in the second-half during the 27-35 defeat in Paris in 2020.
“The last two Wednesdays before France over the past two fixtures I’ve ended up pulling out, so to get through today [Wednesday] is great,” he told reporters.
“I’ll be ready to go for 80 this week if needed.
“Hopefully I can get through [Wednesday] without any hiccups,” he added laughing.
Sexton dismissed his opposite number Romain Ntamack declaring that the hosts were favourites.
He added, though, it was nice for someone of his own generation who had grown up with Ireland consistently the underdogs when they played France now to be genuinely competitive.
“If we’re favourites, we’re favourites,” he said.
“It doesn’t really bother me if that’s what he says.
“It is a blockbuster of a game.
“I grew up in an era of watching Ireland lose to France, heavily, to then sort of see the first teams beating them and then to be part of teams beating them has been amazing.”
#SPOTLIGHT: France star Romain Ntamack has weighed in on the favourites tag debate ahead of his team’s Six Nations clash against Ireland👇#France #Ireland #SixNations #IREvFRA https://t.co/okaglDvCYA
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However, Sexton, whose drop goal to beat France in the dying seconds in the 2018 Six Nations match in Paris acted as the launching pad for their Grand Slam that season, said it was still hard for an old stager like himself to shake off the underdog tag.
“You still have those memories from a young kid of France coming and demolishing Ireland,” he said.
“You probably naturally feel the underdog at my age, whereas the younger lads probably don’t.
“It’s a strange mixture in the squad.”
Ireland will be bidding for a record 13th successive home win – the French were the last side to beat them at Lansdowne Road in 2021 – with Grand Slam champions France looking to extend their record winning streak to 15 games under coach Fabien Galthie.
Sexton said it would have perhaps been better for Ireland if France had enjoyed an easy win over Italy last Sunday and not struggled to a 29-24 victory in Rome.
“Look, we got to see what France are like when they are tested,” he said.
“We knew this game, no matter what happened in the first game, for us or for them, was a standalone game come Saturday.
“It’s one of those one-off, big games, we know they are going to be big consequences in terms of the rest of the tournament, win or lose.”
The one surprise for him thus far this week has been the absence of targeting him in the French media.
Two years ago he launched a blistering rebuttal in his pre-match press conference aimed at his former French doctor when he was at Racing 92.
Doctor Jean-Francois Chermann had questioned whether was it wise for him to rush back to play France after he suffered a knock to the head in the opening game against Wales.
In the end, ironically he failed the HIA and missed the match.
“Often for me, something comes out of the woodwork in French week and I’m expecting something later in the week,” he said smiling.