Jonathan Sexton feels Ireland’s record of just one win over France in Paris in 42 years is not relevant to next Saturday’s title decider, with the Irish squad treating the game as a one-off – ‘a cup final’, in the words of the out-half.
Jonathan Sexton and his team-mates will take a ‘cup final’ mentality to the French capital as Ireland seek their first RBS 6 Nations title since 2009’s Grand Slam success.
Sexton crossed the whitewash twice and finished with a 17-point haul in Ireland’s 47-6 dismissal of Italy, a win which keeps them on course for the Championship crown.
His sprained right thumb is ‘grand’ according to the player himself. “It’ll be strapped for the rest of the season. It will be in this little brace for three weeks,” explained Sexton.
“It comes off for the game and a smaller one comes on. So it’s grand. In the old days it would be a sprained thumb. Strap it up and off you go.
“These days with all the scans, specialists, things can get lost in translation. It’s all good.”
Away wins over France have been particularly rare for Ireland – the Brian O’Driscoll-inspired 2000 triumph was their last one, adding to the Colombes victories of 1948, 1952 and 1972.
Two years ago two first half tries from Tommy Bowe were not enough as les Bleus fought back for a 17-all draw at the Stade de France.
Asked about Ireland’s poor record in Paris, Sexton said: “It just shows how difficult it is to go and win there. It means if we go and win, we’ll have earned it. It will be something to remember.
“In many ways, the pressure is off because the expectations are, we’ve won once in 42 years and picked up a draw along the way.
“We’ve a chance to go and make history now because I think it’ll eclipse what they did in 2000 because there’s something on the line (this week).
“If we win, we pick up a trophy. When Ireland won 14 years ago, they’d nothing to play for. So, I think this would be an even greater victory – if we can do it.”
He added: “We don’t get bogged down in, ‘we haven’t won there in so long’. We’re focused on how we’re going to beat them with our attacking moves and defence we’ll use on the day.
“That’s all we’ll be thinking about. The history will be talked about by everyone else and it’s better that way.”
Having won silverware with Leinster at PRO12 and European level, Sexton would dearly love to pick up a Six Nations winners’ medal.
The out-half has plenty of final-winning pedigree, with his efforts in Leinster’s 2011 Heineken Cup final comeback against Northampton Saints arguably the highlight of his provincial career.
Sexton insists that Ireland will be focusing on their ‘performance’ this week, rather than past history between the teams or the prize on offer in the concluding game of the 2014 Championship.
“Sometimes when you go into finals, you get so worried about the result that you lose track of what got you there in the first place. It will be very much performance-driven.
“From having worked with all the coaches here before, especially with Joe (Schmidt), having played European finals and Rabo finals, it’ll be very much focused on the performance.
“Even though it’s winner-takes-all, it will be very much the same as usual,” said the 28-year-old of Ireland’s approach.
The men in green head into the final round in pole position in the table and can rely on the best attack and defence – 110 points/13 tries scored and just 29 points/2 tries conceded – from the first four weekends of the Championship.
Sexton sits just two points behind leading points scorer Leigh Halfpenny (51 points) and with head coach Schmidt overseeing continual improvements in their game, he is confident Ireland can seal the deal in Paris.
“We’ve got the best coach around. We’re going to go in with a game-plan that everyone trusts, and we’re full of confidence.
“We do realise how tough it’s going to be, but we’ll take confidence from what happened two years ago, when we got a draw and should have won.”
Returning to that ‘cup final’ mentality, the Dubliner admitted: “I was very lucky that I was at Leinster in a period when we were in nine finals, and we won six of them.
“Blessed to be there for that period of time and picked for the Lions more on the back of my Leinster form rather than Ireland form and then achieved (Test series) success there.
“It is the same for a lot of the boys. There’s only a few guys here who have lifted a trophy with Ireland. We are all desperate to go out and do it this weekend.”
He is right regarding the lack of international medals among the current crop at Carton House. Of the squad that Schmidt takes to Paris, only O’Driscoll, current captain Paul O’Connell, Rory Best, Jamie Heaslip, Rob Kearney and Gordon D’Arcy remain from the Grand Slam-winning side five years ago.