Last season saw Ireland endure two very physical encounters with France in the 2015 Rugby World Cup and 2016 Six Nations.
During their heated World Cup pool game in Cardiff, Joe Schmidt’s side lost Peter O’Mahony, Paul O’Connell and Johnny Sexton to injury, as the French seemed to target the Irish fly-half with their powerful ball carriers.
Following the 2014 encounter between the sides, such a strategy became well established after Mathieu Bastareaud forced the Irish playmaker off as a result of a massive carry in midfield.
In the weeks that followed, observers rightly criticised Sexton for being too high in the tackle as France sniffed a potential weakness in the fly half’s game. During the 2015 Six Nations, Sexton once again found himself at the wrong end Bastareaud’s enormous frame, after the French centre put in a high tackle on the Irish playmaker.
In turn, during the 2015 Six Nations, Sexton once again found himself at the wrong end of Bastareaud’s enormous frame, after the French centre put in a high tackle on the Irish playmaker.
In the midst of the World Cup encounter between the sides, France sent runners down Sexton’s channel as a means of unsettling him, and ultimately forced the Leinster player off after a particularly aggressive Louis Picamole tackle in the 25th minute.
Similarly, last season Yoann Maestri received a warning for a cynical body-check on Sexton – well after he had played the ball. The incident drew a great deal criticism of the French approach, and accusations that they were, in fact, targeting the 31-year-old.
Consequently, it’s not too surprising to see Ireland skills coach, Richie Murphy, contend that “the officials are there to make sure that foul play isn’t tolerated, so it will be up to them to make sure the game is played in the right spirit”.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Murphy maintained “our focus is very much on ourselves and how we do things. We’re not really worrying about what France are going to do. It’s up to the referee and his team to sort that out”.
Although this French team is playing the game in a different to the manner that under Philippe Saint-André, they might none the less be tempted to test Sexton this coming Saturday.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena