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Sunday 17 December 2017

Conor Murray: We need Sexton back for French test

Ireland scrum-half carries no baggage going into French game but believes that having number 10 back is crucial

Conor Murray
Conor Murray
Johnny Sexton has been passed fit for Ireland's clash with France on February 14

Scrum-half Conor Murray sees the return of Jonathan Sexton as "crucial" to Ireland ahead of the coming of the mighty French to Dublin on Saturday.

"Johnny is a world-class player and to have him fit is going to be hugely beneficial," said Murray.

"It's great to have him back in full training this week.

"The lads that did stand in, the two Ians (Keatley and Madigan), did well and have benefited from that experience."

confidence

It is a case of whether coach Joe Schmidt will look to add to Keatley's confidence by keeping him in the match-day squad or rely on the versatility of Madigan as the back-up.

There is no such dilemma for Sexton.

"Over the last couple of years, Johnny has been really, really good for Ireland," reported Murray.

"He's a real leader in our squad at the moment and really drives the standards in training and on and off the pitch."

There is the lift in confidence Sexton automatically provides with his mere presence and the fear or anxiety he can spread among the ranks of the French.

"Every other team knows how good Johnny is and he is of that world-class standard," said Murray.

"Not that it brings fear but they are going to pay a bit more attention to him and be really wary of the threat he brings around him."

What the French internationals at Racing Metro, like flanker Bernard le Roux, will have learned is the competitive instinct that burns inside of Sexton and the tools he has to do what he says.

"He brings players in off their wings and off the ball really well and he directs play for us extremely well.

"He knows our game plan inside out. It's just the quality of player; other players are going to examine him a bit more."

This is where the doubts over Sexton's match sharpness will be put to a physical test by the ferocious French.

Surely, he will be targeted. Won't he? "I don't know. I don't think so. The only issue there would probably be match fitness.

"If we look at players we are playing against who have been out injured, they are still capable of doing whatever they have been doing while fit.

"They still bring the same threats to the game and there may be a question over their fitness but, other than that, you don't really lose any of your ability. You still have to respect them."

Increasingly, Ireland are beginning to take on the appearance of France in the way their scrum-half Murray embraces the role of a playmaker, like Morgan Parra and Rory Kockott. "We have our game plan and the way we like to play," he added.

"The involvement I have, I know my role and I know potentially what the game is going to be like, against France, Italy or anyone like that."

Interestingly, it took Paul O'Connell all the way up to the Grand Slam season of 2009 to register his first win over the French.

His fellow Limerick man has not had to carry that heavy baggage with him.

lucky

"I've been lucky against them. The last three times we've played them I've drawn twice and beat them narrowly last year over there.

"They are still loaded with really good players who can pull rabbits out of hats.

"I suppose we've got to pat ourselves on the back. We've played well against them in the last couple of years.

"You look at the game last season.

"France played their best game of the season against us and we were able to deal with that and come away with a result."

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