Rugby Union

Iain Henderson hails Ireland's star fly-half duo after win over France in Six Nations

Ireland’s Johnny Sexton collects the ball as France’s Guilhem Guirado closes in during Saturday’s Six Nations clash at the Aviva Stadium. Picture by Press Association
Nick Purewal

JOHNNY Sexton and Paddy Jackson have been backed to form a playmaking duo capable of guiding Ireland to a Six Nations title decider with England.

Ireland lock Iain Henderson has tipped fly-halves Sexton and Jackson to dovetail to clinical effect in the clash against Wales in Cardiff on March 10.

Joe Schmidt’s men have wrestled back a level of control in their Six Nations campaign thanks to Saturday’s 19-9 win over France in Dublin.

Now a victory in Wales could line up a winner-takes-all clash with England at the Aviva Stadium March 18, and Henderson (right) believes the combination of fit-again Sexton and Jackson boosts Ireland’s resources.

“Johnny gives confidence to the team and has massive experience,” said Henderson.

“The boys were all happy with Paddy’s performance in Italy but obviously Johnny has a lot of experience, big-game experience and a lot of time playing outside Conor Murray.

“It was great to see him come through the France game unscathed and for Jacko to finish it off as well.

“It’s fantastic when you have two fly-halves that everyone has massive confidence in both of them. They can interchange, come on and off and both run the game really well.

“I think it’s a really big asset for Ireland to have Paddy on the bench, he’s not only playing well but also everyone’s got massive confidence in him.

“I thought he played amazingly in South Africa in the summer and then to guide Ireland home in the win over Australia in the autumn.

“Our defeat in Scotland obviously wasn’t ideal but even there and again in Italy, he ran the show fantastically well.

“Johnny’s massively competitive, and there’s always pressure on him and I’m sure when he sees Jacko doing well that just makes him want to get back all the quicker. They work really well together and bounce really well off each other.”

Scrum-half Murray nipped in for the only try as Ireland saw off France in Dublin, with Sexton posting 11 points with the boot in his first game in a month following a calf injury.

Jackson (below) slotted a late penalty in a tidy late cameo, as Ireland repelled France’s constant threat.

“We did ourselves an injustice against Scotland,” said Ulster lock Henderson.

“As a rule we’re a good defensive side, but we’ll probably still be ripped to shreds by [defence coach] Andy Farrell on Monday morning, saying we’ve got to get better.

“The Cardiff game will be tough, and they’ll be coming all guns blazing and we’ll be looking to make a big impact there as well.

“We need to be able to chase our line breaks down now, and we’ve got to make sure we don’t turn over as much ball.

“If we nail those two things down that will go a long way to our phases being a lot better.

“And our defence needs to be a bit more solid, not giving them any ball.

“I don’t think you can ever really rule out Wales at home, especially after a defeat in Scotland that they’ll be upset about.

“I know if we were in their shoes we wouldn’t be resting on our laurels we’d be wanting to make an impact, to make sure our home fans we put on the best performance for them.”

Schmidt’s side battled back from another piecemeal start however, with Sexton impressing on his return after a month battling a groin injury, lasting almost 70 minutes.

The 31-year-old was subjected to the latest in a long sequence of intimidation tactics from the French, but this time emerged both unscathed and victorious.

“In a measured way I thought he was really, really positive for us,” said Schmidt of Sexton.

“He varied the game, we varied it up a bit in the second half. We had to try to get them chasing things rather than chasing us.

“I thought he did it superbly, a couple of great kicks in behind. That allowed us to keep the pressure on. He never shirks his defensive responsibilities anyway, Johnny.

“We probably aimed to give him 50 to 55 [minutes], but with the nature of the game, and him having the wind knocked out of him at one point where he had a two-minute rest, we gave him a bit longer.

“It’s certainly not the first time Johnny’s come straight back like that. He prepares himself incredibly well, he wants to be his best all the time.”

France boss Guy Noves lamented the slight knock-on from Fickou that cost his side the Lamerat try, while also admitting he struggles to chart any progress for Les Bleus in defeat.

“I don’t have the impression we are progressing but we are building something that is for sure,” said Noves.

“This match will gives us clues as to how to build further in the future.

“We will analyse all the situations where we had the ball and weren’t able to make it count.

“It is a pity the first occasion we did break through their defence ended up with the try being disallowed because of a minuscule knock-on by Gael Fickou.

“I think we have stagnated but we have not taken a step back.

“But we are finding out by playing the high quality sides like Ireland how far we have to go.”

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