Six Nations 2017: Sexton at the top of his game in win over France says Schmidt

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Ireland coach Schmidt hails Sexton and Murray displays in win over France

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt says Johnny Sexton's display in Saturday's 19-9 Six Nations win over France showed a player at the top of his game.

The 31-year-old fly-half returned from a five-week injury absence to produce a masterful half-back display along with scrum-half Conor Murray.

Sexton's display included 11 points as Ireland kept their title hopes alive.

"He has never navigated us round the pitch as well as he did today for a while," said the Ireland coach.

"It is great to have someone who everyone has confidence in, he makes a call and everyone backs him."

Schmidt had no hesitation in recalling Sexton in place of in-form Paddy Jackson even though the Leinster star had not played since sustaining a calf injury in the European Champions Cup game against Castres on 20 January.

"Based on experience it is not the first time he has done it [impressed after a lay-off]," added Schmidt.

"He prepares incredibly well and has such a competitive edge."

Johnny Sexton shows his delight after slotting a second-half drop goal against France
Johnny Sexton had not played rugby since being injured on Leinster duty on 20 January

Schmidt kept Sexton on for longer than planned

Sexton was expected to play for around 50 minutes against the French but Schmidt opted to keep the British & Irish Lion on the field for 69 minutes, when Jackson was introduced.

"The stop-start nature of the game when there were several scrums at a time allowed him a bit of a breather," added the 51-year-old New Zealander.

"He was really, really positive in a measured way. He varied the game especially in the second half because we felt we couldn't use ourselves up too much and instead tire them out.

"It allowed us to keep the pressure on, plus he never shirks his defensive duties.

"We aimed to keep him on till the 55th minute at the latest but as he had a two-and-a-half-minute break after a tough hit we kept him on."

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Captain Rory Best hails Ireland resolve in 19-9 win over physical French

Wales will be tough opposition insists Schmidt

Schmidt said the victory keeps Ireland's title destiny in their own hands although he insisted that he is now focusing all his attentions on the game with out-of-contention Wales in Cardiff on 10 March rather than a possible title decider against England a week later.

The Irish coach, hoping to guide his side to a third Six Nations title in four years, felt Wales had been somewhat unlucky in Saturday's 29-13 defeat by Scotland.

"They lost on the scoreboard but had two tries scratched out. For me they seemed to have a lot of control of the game and we can testify how effective the Scots are at finishing.

"You don't go to Cardiff and get anything easy because the Welsh take a heck of a lot of pride in their game and have some super players."

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