Key to bonus point win for Irish is defence, says Sexton

Dublin (AFP) –


Ireland captain Johnny Sexton said on Tuesday his side will have to be resolute in defence against France this weekend if they are to give themselves a chance of securing the bonus point win to assure themselves of the Six Nations title.

The 35-year-old fly-half admitted a bonus point win on Saturday in Paris against a transformed Bleus side under the guidance of Fabien Galthie is a "big ask".

Ireland top the table a point above England and the French going into the final day of the tournament halted in March by the coronavirus pandemic.

With England expected to rack up a huge score over bottom side Italy in Rome, Sexton's men need the full compliment of match points to take the title.

However, Galthie's outfit entertain title ambitions of their own after last Saturday's impressive five-try win over Wales in a warm-up game.

"Their ability to score out of nothing points to the individual flair that they have," Sexton said.

"They are unbelievably connected and together, if you show those doglegs in defence they are through the gaps pretty quick.

"A big ask, but we know that, and we're preparing ourselves for a big performance."

- 'Need to be clinical' -

Sexton said Ireland were disciplined without the ball against the Azzurri in Dublin but last Saturday's visitors still crossed twice.

"Our defence for 90 per cent of the match was good, then there were a couple of things," said Sexton.

"But you know nothing will ever be perfect in Paris."

There will be no fans in the Stade de France because of the French coronavirus curfew.

"It's a neutral venue this time, so that could be an advantage for us."

Sexton, who contributed 18 of Ireland's points in the Italy match including a try, said there was no thinking about lifting the trophy.

"All we can control at the moment is our performance," he said.

"So we've just had to emphasise to everyone that we need to get performance right no matter what.

"We're still going to have to play well no matter what, so let's focus on that aspect.

"We know if we perform well, we'll create chances, so we'll have to take them, we'll need to be clinical."

Sexton claimed his memories of the extraordinary moment when he kicked the last-minute winning drop goal on Ireland's last visit to the Stade de France in 2018 were only vague.

"A lot's happened since. It does feel like a long, long time ago," he said.

"But it's great to be back in that situation again, where we've got a trophy on the line.

"It's in our hands, and that's what we play for."