Maxime Machenaud looking forward to keeping tabs on Ireland’s Sexton
France scrumhalf eager to test himself on the international stage against his Racing Metro team-mate
Maxime Machenaud of France: “We’ve been able to show that you can win top-level matches without a set piece and without having clean ball,” he said. “Now we want to show a different face.” Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
As if France needed any more help against Ireland, this year they have something of an inside man.
Including a World Cup clash in 2007 and a World Cup warm-up three years ago, Ireland have won just once in their last 22 matches on French soil. Maxime Machenaud, a team-mate of Jonathan Sexton at Racing Metro, is counting on that miserable run continuing this weekend.
The French scrum-half has been working side-by-side with Ireland’s number 10 since the start of the season and he plans to make the most of what he has observed.
“It’s maybe the weakness that he has [for this match], even if he has very few of them,” Machenaud told reporters yesterday at the French training camp outside Paris.
“I’ll know what attitude he has when he wants the ball, when he’s conducting the play. So I’ll maybe have some advice to give to my team-mates to help them know how to counteract him.”
Machenaud is aware, however, that the information he has garnered can only go so far. All the more so when set against the long-standing relationship Sexton has with former Leinster team-mates Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy.
“We know that he does more things automatically when he plays for Ireland than he does for Racing,” Machenaud said.
“You feel he’s more at ease anyway. That’s normal because he’s played for years with his two partners in crime in the centre.
“He has a little bit more difficulty expressing himself at Racing but he’s still a really great player.”
Initially, there was talk of Sexton’s recent thumb injury keeping him out for up to six weeks. Machenaud took over goal-kicking duties for Racing’s win over French champions Castres two weeks ago, only to watch his club colleague return to action against Italy.
“He’s a competitor and he would have liked to have played against Castres,” Machenaud said. “He really wanted to play for his country, which is normal, especially for O’Driscoll’s final home match.”
“He risked playing with a thumb which wasn’t in great shape and, even though it was a little fragile, he played a great match.”
Messages between the two players might be exchanged before Saturday’s game but contact will be limited until after hostilities have ended at the Stade de France. Likewise, Machenaud maintained that there was little point talking to Racing coach Ronan O’Gara until then.
“I think he’s still up for Ireland, a little bit,” he said with a smile.
Whatever the outcome, the Bordeaux native says it will be special to play against Sexton. Machenaud feels he has learned a lot from the Irish international in a short space of time – particularly when it comes to goal-kicking.
“It’s an area he works on a lot, the kicking game,” Machenaud revealed. “He’s someone, technically, who’s very precise.
“At Racing his experience helps young players like myself. He’s someone who’s very professional and who works practically every day on his goal-kicking. I think I was able to progress thanks to rubbing shoulders with him at training.”
The hard work seems to be paying off for the former Bordeaux and Agen player, as he was asked to take on extra responsibility in France’s 19-17 win over Scotland. In difficult conditions, Machenaud kicked three early penalties before adding a conversion.
“I know that there was a bit of pressure on me,” the 25-year-old said. “It’s an area that I’m working on a lot. I missed one and I know why I missed it. The action wasn’t perfect and it’s up to me to correct that by working at training so that I might be at 100 per cent.”
Machenaud was in much better form yesterday than prop Nicolas Mas, who grew tired of French journalists exploring the forwards’ troubles against Scotland and cut his interview short.
Despite numerous and vocal critics though, the French somehow have three wins from four.
But Machenaud knows that they will have to perform much better to finish the tournament on a positive note.
“We’ve been able to show that you can win top-level matches without a set piece and without having clean ball,” he said. “Now we want to show a different face.”