Ian Keatley: we need Sexton in team
Out-half expecting to hand back No 10 shirt
Ian Keatley expects Johnny Sexton to reclaim Ireland's number 10 jersey - but claimed as "one of the best out-halves in the world" he fully deserves to.
Keatley posted a 100 per cent goal-kicking record on his RBS 6 Nations debut as Ireland eased past Italy 26-3 with a staccato performance in Rome.
The 27-year-old conceded Sexton should start against France on Saturday, however, with the Racing Metro playmaker finally free to return after an enforced 12-week concussion lay-off.
Keatley declared "you need Johnny Sexton in your team" in accepting his fate for France's Dublin visit - but refused to give up on his Test dream despite a refreshingly frank personal appraisal.
"To be honest Johnny's done so well over the last three or four years he deserves the number-one position," said Keatley.
"He's one of the best out-halves in the world so to be honest I presume that he's going to be straight in there for the French match, even though he hasn't played in a while.
"He's still been keeping fit and you need Johnny Sexton in your team.
"I can take a lot of confidence from playing in Italy, but also I need to know where I want to get to.
"I know that Johnny is number one, but you can't just accept that. If you're looking to play second-fiddle to someone the whole time you're not going to improve personally.
"So that's what I want to do, I want to keep improving and just keep challenging Johnny and hopefully play in more big games like this.
"With the sub position I don't know what's going to happen there, I'm just delighted with the win in Italy first and foremost.
"And I can still iron out things in my performance. I'm sure I'll go through it with Joe (Schmidt) and just look to improve."
Ireland boss Schmidt admitted he felt nerves caught Keatley out at several stages during his fourth Test cap at the Stadio Olimpico.
Keatley conceded Ireland's head coach called his nerves correctly, but pledged to keep his emotions in check in future.
The utility playmaker traversed a provincial Odyssey with Leinster and Connacht before finding his Thomond Park niche at Muster and admitted using his circuitous route to the top as his current Test match motivation.
"A few times leading up to the match I got nervous, I was just thinking to myself that I remembered watching Ireland winning the Six Nations in France last year," said Keatley.
"And I just remembered how much at the time I wanted to be there.
"I was actually watching it on my own at home and I really wanted to be out there.
"So whenever I got nervous in the week leading up to this game I just reminded myself, 'This is where you want to be, so suck it up'.
"Nerves can be a positive or a negative in a match, everyone gets nervous because it means so much to you.
"If you didn't get nervous it probably wouldn't mean much to you.
"So it's just a few deep breaths, with the kicking, out of hand there's a couple I rushed, but after the first 10 minutes once I got settled I felt comfortable out there.
"Not everyone can be a superstar and just break through, you need a little bit of luck.
"I've made some big decisions in my career, going to Connacht and then Munster: I've just been working hard so that if I ever did get this opportunity I would be ready for it.
"It is a bit of a roundabout route, but a lot of players have to do it that way.
"A lot of players get lucky breaks, they get in, but a lot have to work like I did, to keep fighting and keep improving.
"And then some players just fall off as well. And that's the highs and lows of rugby.
"Some players might have to retire through injury, there's so many ways that make or break you.
"It's a long way around but I'm here at the moment and hopefully I'm going to stay here."