Sexton worries: What if outhalf suffers another concussion?

Ex-French international Laurent Bénézech warns of risk starting against Les Bleus

Laurent Bénézech, the former French rugby international, journalist and author, has questioned Ireland coach Joe Schmidt’s decision to start Johnny Sexton against France at the Aviva stadium tomorrow.

Last November, following the advice of neurologist Dr Jean-François Cherman, the outhalf was stood down from any physical contact for 12 weeks after sustaining a fourth concussion since March during Ireland’s 26-23 victory over Australia. The enforced lay-off ended last Friday when Sexton (29) resumed full training. “Ireland is in trouble as playing Sexton after what happened to him is a big mistake,” Bénézech told The Irish Times. “I can tell you already what will be the first way France will use the ball. It will be number nine [Rory Kockott] to [Mathieu] Bastareaud, straight at Johnny Sexton.”


That’s the same Bastareaud, all 120kg (19 stone) of him, who knocked Sexton out cold last March when Ireland clinched the Six Nations title in Paris. “The French have to do that,” Bénézech said. “Maybe an Irish backrow could save the situation, but what happens if Johnny Sexton gets another knockout? He is out of rugby, maybe indefinitely.

“It would be easier to use him as a substitute and use him, or not, according to the game. Imagine the pressure on his shoulders for the first tackle? And if it is Bastareaud with a 20-metre run-up before getting the ball, it will be a disaster.” Bénézech, who won 15 caps during the mid-1990s, attained notoriety in France last year when his book Rugby, où sont tes valeurs? (Rugby, where are your values?) highlighted possible doping within the game.


Schmidt confirmed Sexton’s inclusion in the team yesterday. “Johnny’s as much a risk to start as anyone else,” said the Ireland coach. “He is very fit, he has done a lot of training with us, 12 weeks training, he just hadn’t done any contact.

“He’s done plenty of contact this week.

“Obviously a very strong, direct threat for us is Bastareaud,” Schmidt added.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent