Ireland kicking coach Richie Murphy insists that out-half Jonathan Sexton is raring to go after time out due to the three concussions he sustained last year. Sexton saw a neurologist last Thursday and was given the-all clear to return for Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations clash with France.
Prior to his meeting with the neurologist, Jonathan Sexton had taken a full part in training bar full contact. Now he is set to be returning in the Irish number 10 jersey against France despite not having played since his concussion against Australia in November.
“Johnny is just itching to go. The last few weeks probably have been a little bit frustrating but he understood that he couldn’t play until he got the all-clear. He’s got that now and he’s ready to go,” confirmed Ireland kicking coach Richie Murphy.
“His kicking is going fine. We did some work today and yesterday and he seems to be in a good spot. Obviously he hasn’t taken any competitive kicks for a while, so we will see how he gets on at the weekend.”
The step up from training to an international match against the French is sure to be testing for the 47-times capped back, who was stood down for 12 weeks. But Murphy, who has built a close working relationship with Sexton since his provincial breakthrough in the 2008/09 season, has no worries about the returning Dubliner.
“It’s a pretty big test for him but the great benefit he has is that he has been training, so he has had his eye in doing a lot of skill work and non-contact stuff that we have been doing. It’s not as bad as somebody coming back from injury where they haven’t been able to touch the ball.
“He’ll be ready to go. He looks like he’s in a really good spot so that’s a decision (whether he starts at 10) that will be made later on in the week.”
Sean O’Brien missed the 26-3 victory over Italy due to a hamstring injury he picked up in the warm-up. Having trained today along with the returning Dave Kearney, Eoin Reddan and Jamie Heaslip, Ireland are in a better shape selection-wise heading into the second round of the Championship.
There is a concern over Rory Best, who did not train today as he continues his return-to-play protocols after suffering a head injury against Italy. A decision on Ireland’s most-capped hooker will be made later in the week.
France have failed to finish better than fourth in the RBS 6 Nations under Philippe Saint-André with Ireland unbeaten against the French during his three-year tenure – there were draws in both 2012 (17-17) and 2013 (13-13) before Joe Schmidt’s men won the title with a famous 22-20 win in Paris last March.
However, Murphy knows the danger posed by Clermont Auvergne out-half Camille Lopez, a Six Nations newcomer, and with talk of a return for Morgan Parra at scrum half, he knows the visitors will be up for the challenge.
“When you look through the team and see the players they have, they’re world class all the way through. The French pose a massive threat, we have never beaten them at the Aviva Stadium, we got a draw two years ago. I think they could easily do a lot better than they have done before (under Saint-André).
“There is talk that (Morgan) Parra will play. Lopez will probably play ten. He’s been pretty good for them, good kicking game, good on the line and good passing game and he’s a threat himself. Whoever they do pick we will have to be at our best to deal with it.”
While happy to make a winning start to the tournament, Murphy feels there is room for improvement against France and a lot more to come from this Irish squad. The total of seven penalties conceded against Italy was a source of some pride but again, Murphy feels it can be bettered.
“There is more to come. We were obviously very happy with the result, to win by 23 points in Rome is actually a good result over there. We did feel that from time to time we didn’t get things right so I suppose the massive thing for us this week is to tighten up on those areas and that started yesterday,” he explained.
“The players have been good, really focused in training, the intensity in training today was really high, putting people under pressure.
“That’s five more (penalties) than last year so we want to reduce it. Not every penalty you give away is an indiscretion. If you look at the scrums, referees might award a penalty against you and it might be the other way around. We pride ourselves on our discipline, not giving the opposition opportunities to get into us through that way, so it is another thing that we will be concentrating on this week.”