Decision on Jared Payne to be taken in next 24 hours

Sexton: ‘We probably need the best performance of Joe’s time to win this weekend’

A decision on Jared Payne’s fitness is expected to come out of Ireland’s new residence, Celtic Manor outside Newport, by lunch time Tuesday.

The 29-year-old Kiwi, a key figure in Ireland's attack and defence since being fully converted to outside centre by Joe Schmidt, has struggled with a bruised foot since victory over Romania on September 29th.

"The next 24 hours will give us a clearer picture of Jared Payne's situation," said Ireland manager Mick Kearney. "But we would be very hopeful he will be okay later in the week."

Keith Earls and Luke Fitzgerald are vying for the 13 jersey should Payne fail to make it.

But Schmidt expects to select his team for France in Cardiff this Sunday from a fully available 31 man squad.

“He’s in and out of the moon boot all day, and he’s already been jogging in training,” Kearney added.

Meanwhile, Johnny Sexton is under no illusions about the challenge facing Ireland at the Millennium stadium.

“We’re pretty disappointed with a lot of aspects of our game,” said Sexton. “In fairness to Italy they put us under a lot of pressure.

"We've a lot to look at ourselves. We made too many unforced errors. We made mistakes in defence too, gave away too many penalties in defence but we're where we wanted to be at the start of the tournament. The coaching staff are always pretty hard on us, even through the Six Nations campaigns we won.

“The ease with which they (Italy) were able to keep the ball and go wide-wide, if we let France do that it will be pretty tough.

“We want to be the most disciplined team around but for some reason yesterday we didn’t get the decisions, so we’ll have to look at that.”

Paul O’Connell seemed to be in a constant running battle with French referee Jerome Garces as Ireland struggled to a 16-9 victory at Olympic Park.

“Once we went down to 14 men we resorted to trying to keep them in their 22 to keep the pressure on and let them play out of there,” said Sexton of Peter O’Mahony’s 72nd minute sin-binning.

“Maybe we could have tried to keep the ball, but if you turn it over on your own 10-metre line you give them a chance to maul you.

“We’re in no doubt we’ll be playing against the best French team that there can be, they always pull it together for World Cups, and we’ll have to be at our very best to come out on top.

“I don’t know if it’s a wake-up call I think we’re a pretty grounded group but it was definitely a game we needed in terms of the physicality.

“We hadn’t seen that Italian team in our reviews. We dug deep, we won ugly and at times you have to do that.

“I’d rather be sat here now with everything on the line against France rather than off the back of a defeat.”

And what of his old friend Mathieu Bastareaud (who stopped playing to put an unconscious Sexton in the recovery position after their collision in the 2014 Six Nations decider at Stade de France)?

“He’s a hard man to stop and I know it better than most! 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 anymore.

“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 Fofana and Dulin will run off him and find those holes, so we’ve got to make sure we’re paying him the respect he deserves.”

From his two seasons playing for Racing Metro 92 Sexton has a greater appreciation of why France are primarily a World Cup rugby nation.

“What I did get from them is that the World Cup is huge over there.

“The Six Nations is almost like a burden on them in the middle of a Top 14 season, that’s the kind of impression that I got, that it almost disrupts their league season.

“And then it comes to a World Cup it’s almost like they build for this, it’s like they use players through the Six Nations year on year to have a big playing pool for the World Cup.

“And you can see from their previous results, how many semi-finals and finals they’ve been in.

“Arguably they should have won the last World Cup and they were in turmoil in the group stages.

“So we’ve got to be aware of all these things and realise them but at the same time we know we’ve got to concentrate on ourselves because if we get our performance right we can be a good team.

“We probably do need the best performance of Joe’s time to win this weekend.”