Ireland head coach Andy Farrell insists he has no concerns about Johnny Sexton’s age as he attempts to help his veteran skipper rediscover top form following an injury-hit spell.
Influential fly-half Sexton claimed he had never been more nervous before a game than he was ahead of Saturday’s resounding 34-10 Six Nations win over Wales.
The 37-year-old kicked 12 points in Cardiff in only his second appearance in three months after picking up an injury in the autumn win over South Africa and then suffering a cheekbone issue on his return for Leinster at the start of January.
Sexton departed the Principality Stadium field nine minutes from time due to a dead leg but is expected to be available for next week’s round-two showdown with reigning Grand Slam champions France.
Farrell has been in regular dialogue with Sexton to remind him of his responsibilities amid the recent fitness issues and is reassured by the player’s dedication to the cause.
“There’s no doubt about his age in our mind,” said Farrell. “I spoke to him over the last two weeks constantly that there’s no excuse and he needs to be at his best. He cares about his rugby so much and doing such a good job for his team.
“We’re trying to get him to a point where he’s going to be at his best even though he hasn’t played for so long. How he handles that, how he runs a team as in makes the team feel right and then goes out and performs at the same time.
“His goal-kicking was excellent (on Saturday) and that’s testament to his character.”
France are the only major nation Farrell is yet to beat during his tenure and the sole visiting side to win in Dublin during this World Cup cycle.
Ireland have lost three successive Six Nations clashes with Les Blues going into Saturday’s Aviva Stadium appointment.
Farrell believes Irish fans are “the best in the world” at backing their team in big games and hopes a partisan crowd can help boost his team’s title quest.
“I think everyone realises what’s coming next week,” said Farrell.
“We know what an outstanding side they are and the challenges they are going to bring.
“There’s one thing about an Irish crowd – when there’s a big game and they know they have to get behind the team they are the best in the world. There’s no doubt about that.”