Mon, Feb 27, 2017 - Page 11 News List

Joe Schmidt hails playmaker Sexton

SHOWDOWN:Ireland’s 19-9 victory over France means another win in Cardiff in two weeks time would set up a potential title-decider against England next month

AFP, DUBLIN

Ireland flyhalf Jonathan Sexton scores a penalty against France in their Six Nations match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday.

Photo: AFP

Jonathan Sexton’s masterful performance in returning from a five-week injury 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 alive Ireland’s Six Nations title hopes and will be expected to do it all again against Wales in two weeks.

Victory in Cardiff, against a Wales side whose title hopes disappeared with a 29-13 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 were due to play Italy at Twickenham yesterday and then host a resurgent Scotland before traveling to Dublin next month.

“Based on experience it is not the first time he [Sexton] has done it,” Schmidt said. “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 round the pitch as well as he did today for a while,” added the New Zealander, who kept Sexton going for all but the final 11 minutes at the Aviva Stadium.

Schmidt explained how he had been able to give British and Irish Lions playmaker, who has not completed 80 minutes since October last year, 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 said. “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.”

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,” Schmidt said. “I think the championship is super, it is massively intense and we were on the edge of our seats today.”

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,” Schmidt said. “For me they seemed to have a lot of control of the game and we can testify 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.”

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