Ireland vs France match report: Bloodied and bruised Jonathan Sexton proves a cut above

Ireland 18 France 11: Fly-half shrugs off concussion scare after clash of heads to kick five penalties

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The Independent Online

Jonathan Sexton dusted off the cobwebs and another concussion scare to prove Ireland’s match-winner against France again.

On his return from an enforced 12-week break from the game due to repeated concussions, Ireland’s gutsy fly-half kicked 15 points in a man-of-the-match display.

And that set up a mouth-watering clash against England here in Dublin between the two unbeaten sides in the Six Nations.

However the spectre of head injuries again loomed in the Championship following a series of blows at the Aviva Stadium, not least to Sexton.

 

The fly-half’s face was smeared with blood and was clearly unsteady on his feet following a gruesome clash of heads with France centre Mathieu Bastareaud, early in the second half.

Both players were forced off for assessment for concussion and returned ten minutes later, with Sexton, sporting some swift stitches, kicking a further penalty that proved enough to keep Ireland out of reach despite France lock Romain Taofifenua scoring the game’s only try.

Irish coach Joe Schmidt had grown increasingly irritated at questions over the fitness of Sexton and that led the IRFU to issue a strongly-worded statement to clarify the exhaustive tests passed by the fly-half who was the difference the last time these sides met, 11 months ago in Paris, with two tries.

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Morgan Parra runs into Rory Kockott

However the proof would be on the pitch when France unleashed their 19-stone wrecking ball Bastareaud at the fly-half. Ireland knew it was coming and after Sexton bore the brunt of the force of nature, Tommy Bowe and Robbie Henshaw were in close support to drive the Frenchman onto his heels and win a scrum. It set the tone for the rest of the game.

Of greater concern was Sexton’s form after three months out, only heightened when his first pass flew straight into touch. However it didn’t take the British Lion long to find his touch. His second, a lofty-kick, was better and his third inch-perfect as Tommy Bowe came within a finger-tip of latching onto Sexton’s cross-field kick.

Yet Ireland daren’t switch off for a moment with France capable of pulling a rabbit out of the hat.  Amid the kicking duel, the French backs bristled and threatened to carve an opening from nothing at any given moment.

Half-backs Rory Kocket, among the nouveau Francais, and Camille Lopez proved this new-look France are not exclusively based upon size as they  stepped and weaved through tackles.

However Ireland’s expertise at the choke-tackle, Rory Best and Henshaw among the best exponents, and early injuries kept France out of third gear. Wesley Fofana, probably the most gifted player on the field, spent time undergoing treatment before Teddy Thomas departed with a leg injury.

Thierry Dusautoir saw his ‘try’ ruled out for obstruction from a lineout on 29 minutes. It was the closest either side came to a try in the first-half in which Sexton out-kicked Lopez 12-6.

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Jonathan Sexton celebrates victory with Tommy Bowe

It took just five minutes of the second-half for Sexton and Bastareaud to come face-to-face, literally, again. Sexton’s kick and catch sparked a promising Irish attack as Jared Payne, Best and Heaslip tore forward. Conor Murray looked wide where Sexton was clattered by the French centre. The clash of heads made all 54,000 inside the Aviva Stadium wince and left both players’ faces badly cut. 

Ireland’s players took objection but there was no malice in the collision that also left Bastareaud injured.

Ian Madigan took over while Sexton underwent treatment and nudged Ireland further ahead with a penalty before France lock Pascal Pape was binned for striking Jamie Heaslip in the back with his knee.

However Philippe Saint-Andre cancelled out Ireland’s advantage in the scrum by changing his entire front-row to survive the ten-minute spell unscathed and with a numerical advantage after Best was shown a yellow card for tripping.

However Lopez missed the penalty and Sexton returned to extend Ireland’s lead to 18-6 on 68 minutes.

France rallied through their replacements as Uini Atonio and Bejain Kayser helped set up Taofifenua’s try nine minutes from time. But Lopez was again off-target with the conversion and Ireland closed ranks to hold out for the win.

Line-ups:

Ireland: R Kearney; T Bowe, J Payne, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton (I Madigan 45-55), C Murray; J McGrath (C Healy, 62), R Best (S Cronin, 72), M Ross (M Moore, 62), D Toner (I Henderson, 74), P O’Connell (capt), P O’Mahoney, J Heaslip (J Murphy, 60), S O’Brien (S Cronin, 65-72).

France: S Spedding; Y Huget, M Bastareaud (R Lamerat 72), W Fofana, T Thomas; C Lopez, R Kockott (M Parra 55); A Menini (E Ben Arous 41), G Guirado (B Kayser 48), R Slimani (U Atonio 55), P Pape (R Taofifenua 62), Y Maestri, T Dusautoir (capt, L Goujon 80), B le Roux, D Chouly.

Referee: W Barnes (England)

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