6N: Ireland without Sexton for the showdown with France

PARIS (AP) — Perhaps his mind games. Jonathan Sexton’s enforced absence from the favorites’ Six Nations title showdown on Saturday was played down by Ireland and France.

France coach Fabien Galthie claims Ireland won’t be weaker.

Irish coach Andy Farrell agrees. “It’s also a big development for us as a team,” he said, “and we always expect to be at our best in Paris.”

But the two must be fooling themselves.

Sexton, the captain, is more inspiring than ever. Last weekend he played a key role in Ireland’s first three tries and drew a yellow card from Josh Adams that ended the faltering resistance of a crushed Wales. He suffered a hamstring injury in training on Wednesday which ruled him out of the clash but didn’t prevent him from traveling to Paris to help his team.

“Ireland are a very structured team and their game plan is very well laid out, so they will keep their form,” Galthie said. “We think their way of attacking and defending will be the same without Sexton. We have to elevate our game at all levels. Saturday will be the peak.

Sexton’s guile and boot will be missed, however. His two tries helped Ireland win in Paris to clinch the 2014 title, and his goal falling from 44 yards in the rain in Paris kicked off their 2018 Grand Slam.

Sexton’s replacement is Joey Carbery, who finished Wales from the fly-half for his first taste of rugby since before Christmas. Jack Carty, not capped since the 2019 Rugby World Cup but in form at Connacht, is the replacement.

Farrell put a positive spin on France without its lead driver. Lock James Ryan is captain.

“It’s not just about Joey, can he handle a big game in Paris? It’s about us as a team,” says Farrell. “That’s what Johnny does. He makes sure the whole group is exactly where they should be. But it’s not just about number 10.”

Ireland are strong across the board, resulting in nine straight wins since losing to France in Dublin a year ago. The reserves were bolstered by the return of Lions Iain Henderson and Robbie Henshaw from injury.

France also loaded their bench with six attackers, after a six-day recovery.

“We have the ‘finishers’ who will allow us to win the last 20 minutes of the game,” said Galthie. “We are preparing to release them.”

Otherwise, there are two changes to the starting lineup which were unraveled by crushing Italy 37-10 last Sunday. Yoram Moefana replaced the injured Jonathan Danty at centre, and flanker Francois Cros took the place of Dylan Cretin.

Moefana set up left winger Gabin Villiere’s hat-trick against Italy, but containing standout Irish midfielder Bundee Aki will be more difficult.

“Yoram is ready… physically, technically and psychologically,” promises Galthie. “His teammates will make sure he plays his own game so his natural talent comes out, and he has plenty of that.”

Cameron Woki continues to lock in after burly tackle Bernard Le Roux was surprisingly left out completely.

“Cameron Woki is tough, he’s a young and combative player. Of course Bernard means a lot to us, he’s a great fighter. (But) I think we have enough to deal with the toughness of the Irish peloton .

Sexton’s absence gives France another advantage, in halves which feature World Player of the Year Antoine Dupont alongside the silky-smooth Romain Ntamack. But Ntamack, alongside leaders like Shaun Edwards and Raphael Ibanez, preferred to speak softly about Ireland.

“Even if Ireland come to the Stade de France, I don’t think you can just call them the underdogs,” Ntamack said. “We will give them the status of favorites that they fully deserve.”



France: Melvyn Jaminet, Damian Penaud, Gaël Fickou, Yoram Moefana, Gabin Villière, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont (captain); Anthony Jelonch, Gregory Alldritt, François Cros, Paul Willemse, Cameron Woki, Uini Atonio, Julien Marchand, Cyril Baille. Reserves: Peato Mauvaka, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Demba Bamba, Romain Taofifenua, Thibaud Flament, Dylan Cretin, Maxime Lucu, Thomas Ramos.

Ireland: Hugo Keenan, Andrew Conway, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Mack Hansen, Joey Carbery, Jamison Gibson-Park; Jack Conan, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris, James Ryan (captain), Tadhg Beirne, Tadhg Furlong, Ronan Kelleher, Andrew Porter. Reserves: Dan Sheehan, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, Iain Henderson, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Jack Carty, Robbie Henshaw.


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