Ireland coach Joe Schmidt praised fly-half Jonathan Sexton for his man of the match performance in the nervy 18-11 victory by the defending Six Nations champions over France at Lansdwone Road on Saturday.
Sexton, who was returning to matchplay for the first time in 12 weeks after being stood down for four concussions last year, kicked 15 points, although there was one heart-stopping moment when he emerged looking groggy after a clash of heads with giant French centre Mathieu Bastareaud.
However, Sexton returned to the fray after having some stitches inserted.
“We knew he was OK,” said Schmidt.
“He was off for blood. He has got a few stitches and a shiner. We were more worried about just if that shiner blows up it is a bit hard to judge distance. Our medical team did an HIA (Head Injury Assessment) on him anyway as a precaution to make sure.
“He started giving out to the doctor and when the doctor first came on, he knew he was pretty lucid because that is just like Johnny.
“He is fine. He is probably just frustrated that he missed one kick for touch that went out on the full. I thought he kicked incredibly well out of his hand, including one fantastic kick right down into the righthand corner early on.”
Schmidt, who had been furious with some of the comments about the wisdom of playing Sexton, especially from former France prop Laurent Benezech, said that the Racing Metro back’s habit of not shirking from tackles did worry him.
“That is the thing, it is a concern I have with Johnny because I know he is not going to give any quarter and he is not going to back off,” said Schmidt.
“When Bastareaud came at him and he copped Bastareaud’s elbow a couple of times you do worry because you know he is not going to back off.
“He is a super competitor but that spreads throughout the team. I think the defence against Australia (last November) and defence today are both really good examples of a welded team defending, even though we were under a lot of pressure. Johnny is an important part of that.”
Sexton for his part made light of the incident with Bastareaud, who had caused one of his concussions last year in Ireland’s 22-20 win in Paris that secured the title.
“I asked Bastareaud after the game why always me and he just laughed. Ah sure it looked worse than it was,” said Sexton.
– killer instinct –
AFP / Paul Faith
Ireland’s New Zealand coach Joe Schmidt before kick off of the Six Nations international rugby union match between Ireland and France in Dublin, Ireland on February 14, 2015
Schmidt, who has turned Ireland’s fortunes around since he assumed the post after the 2013 Six Nations, admitted it had not been overall a faultless performance by his side but denied they lacked a clinical streak.
“I think we have the killer instinct, it is just we need to be more accurate,” said the 49-year-old New Zealander, whose team are one win away from equalling the Ireland record of successive test wins of 10.
“I think France would say the same thing about themselves.”
Ireland captain Paul O’Connell denied he was feeling downbeat about the victory, although he added they needed to be better for when England visit in a fortnight.
“I’m not downbeat, I’m delighted to have beaten France back to back because I haven’t had too many wins against them,” said the 35-year-old lock.
AFP / Franck Fife
Ireland’s Jamie Heaslip (L) runs with the ball during the Six Nations international rugby union match between Ireland and France at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on February 14, 2015
“However, I am a bit frustrated at letting a couple of chances go begging.”
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre, who has just three away wins to his credit since becoming coach after the 2011 World Cup final, bemoaned a lost opportunity.
“I am hurt by this result because all week we felt we had the means to win,” said Saint-Andre.
“Our discipline in the first-half was not good enough and then the yellow card in the second period (Pascal Pape for kneeing Jamie Heaslip in the back) did not help at all.
“Matches like this are decided by little things and we didn’t master them.
“The Irish are a very good side but we are not as bad as people seem to think we are.”