McFadden: ‘First-class’ Sexton is too robust
OPPONENTS are wasting their time targeting Ireland’s “talisman” fly-half Johnny Sexton, according to Fergus McFadden.
Sexton’s Leinster team-mate McFadden marvelled at the British and Irish Lions’ playmaker’s ability to shake off big hits and keep on churning out first-class performances.
Even the usually straight-laced Sergio Parisse tried a late hit on Sexton as Ireland swept past Italy 58-15 for their first win of this year’s Six Nations.
But in a campaign where France again tried to ruffle Sexton’s feathers and England boss Eddie Jones suggested the outside-half’s parents should worry about his history of concussions, McFadden hit back to laud Ireland’s pivotal performer.
“Tens can get bashed around a lot in teams and when it’s such a pivotal position guys are always going to target the number 10 jersey,” said McFadden.
“Johnny’s as tough as nails. They keep coming and he keeps getting up, he was a real talisman for us in that first-half against Italy.
“He doesn’t shy away from it. In a way it plays to his strengths when guys run down his channel because he’s a very physical tackler and he gets a lot of turnovers himself.
“We need Johnny to be fully fit for us next week so he can do a job on the Scots.”
Ireland entered the Six Nations as defending champions but are now fighting for a mid-table finish, a return that boss Joe Schmidt has long since accepted as reasonable given the daunting injury count.
The opening draw with Wales and defeats in France and England dented Ireland’s confidence, but former Leinster boss Schmidt hopes the nine-try thumping of Italy will go a long way to addressing that issue.
Leinster back-rower Josh Van der Flier again proved his vast Test potential, with bullocking Connacht lock Ultan Dillane offering another hugely promising cameo off the bench.
Ireland finished Saturday’s clash with five Connacht stars on the field, a reflection of the province’s fantastic Pro12 campaign.