Johnny Sexton has admitted he fully expects France to try to blast him out of Sunday’s crucial World Cup clash by ordering freight-train centre Mathieu Bastareaud to steamroller him.
Fly-half Sexton has urged Ireland to produce the best performance of Joe Schmidt’s coaching tenure to beat the French and tee up a World Cup quarter-final against Argentina.
France sent Toulon battering-ram Bastareaud straight down Sexton’s channel in February’s Six Nations clash, with the playmaker only just back after a three-month concussion lay-off.
Ireland choke-tackled Bastareaud out of the equation to win 18-11 in Dublin that night, and will demand more of the same to chase victory in Cardiff on Sunday that would allow Schmidt’s men to avoid the All Blacks’ half of the draw.
“He’s a hard man to stop and I know it better than most,” said Sexton of Bastareaud.
“I’ve come off second-best a couple of times but he sucks in a lot of defenders and he looks like he’s got himself in really good shape.
“It’s the same for all their players, I think they possess power all across their backline and pace to burn as well.
“So we’ve got to be on top of our game from that point of view, and I’m sure we’ll come up with some kind of plan to help us stop him.
“They said before the last game they were going to come down my channel because I was obviously coming back from a lay-off, and I don’t see it being any different this time.
“You always want to target the opposition 10 and I’m sure they’ll go there again.
“I don’t know if I like the physicality, but it’s part and parcel of the modern game.
“Everyone on the pitch has got to be able to contribute defensively and physically, and it’s not often you see guys that can’t do it any more.
“And hopefully I’ll tick that box.
“He adds an extra dimension to them and I think he’s one of their key ball-carriers.
“He’s a guy that we’re going to have to pay close attention to but if we think about him too much then guys like (Wesley) Fofana and (Brice) Dulin will run off him and find those holes, so we’ve got to make sure we’re paying him the respect he deserves.
“They’ve got players across the park that can hurt us so we’ve got to be a hell of a lot better than we were (in the 16-9 victory over Italy on Sunday).”