Captain Guilhem Guirado insists France will not target Johnny Sexton in Sunday’s Six Nations clash in Dublin.
Hooker Guirado claimed Les Bleus would risk losing focus if chasing Ireland’s talisman fly-half in the Aviva Stadium encounter.
Sexton has railed against continued physical treatment from opponents amid Ireland battling to find form in this Six Nations, with the reigning champions losing to England and labouring to wins over Scotland and Italy.
Head coach Joe Schmidt has conceded Ireland use Sexton – with the playmaker’s tacit approval – as bait in special moves that draw holes in defences, and Guirado is loathe to see France fall for that ruse.
“Obviously Johnny is very important for their organisation but there are also a lot of very good players around him,” said Guirado, of Sexton.
“So we have to focus to work as a team first and not just focus on one player.
“Even though Ireland have had some troubles we know they will be ready for the match tomorrow, they are very well organised.
“But we’re not really focused on them, we’re focused fully on ourselves.”
Toulouse half-backs Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack spearheaded France’s return to form in their stunning 27-10 victory over Scotland in Paris.
Now Les Bleus are desperate to ensure that result was not merely a flash in the pan, although they expect a sterner test in Dublin than against the Scots.
Toulon hooker Guirado hailed Dupont and Ntamack for transferring their club form to the Test arena, but also called on France’s collective to keep their young playmakers on track.
“They are young, but they are used to playing together,” said Guirado.
“They are learning very quickly and they are leading the game, but it’s obviously all the players around them that have to help them.
“It’s good for our confidence, obviously after a long period of defeat, to have a victory.
“It’s good for the group, but one of the elements we are most proud about is what we did with the ball last weekend.
“But as well we have to consider the conditions tomorrow and to adapt our rugby.”
An eight-try, 57-14 win over Italy means England could still claim the Six Nations title, if Ireland can overcome Grand Slam-chasing Wales in Cardiff.
Jones’ side will be seeking to reclaim the Calcutta Cup lost in 2018 in Murrayfield, which was followed by unsavoury abuse of the England boss at a Manchester train station by Scotland supporters.
Jones later admitted he no longer felt safe to travel by public transport and felt pre-match comments from Gavin Hastings – the former Scotland captain said Scotland would love nothing more than “to rub Eddie Jones’s face in the dirt” – were contributing factors to the disgraceful behaviour.
“We’ll rip into training and be at our absolute best next week, because we’re going to have to be to beat Scotland,” Jones said at Twickenham on Saturday.
ENG 57 - 14 ITA | Post-match reaction with Manu Tuilagi 🌹 pic.twitter.com/utNE3bIlBk— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) 9 March 2019
“We know that’s their game of the year. We saw how they carried on last year after they beat us. So, we might have short memories sometimes, but sometimes you have longer memories.”
Jones declined to elaborate, saying: “I just remember everything that was being said. That’s all I have to say. I don’t have to recite what’s been said.”
Manu Tuilagi and Brad Shields scored two tries apiece as England ran amok against Italy, who have now lost a record 21 successive Six Nations games.
Jamie George, Jonny May, George Kruis and Dan Robson also scored tries for England, who bounced back from their 21-13 loss to Wales in Cardiff two weeks ago.
Rarely short of confidence, Jones was even critical of his own performance at the Principality Stadium, but pleased with the response against Italy.
“I don’t think I coached the side very well against Wales and I take responsibility for that,” he added.
“Did I doubt myself? Probably not. I was filthy about the way I coached. I didn’t coach well.
“I let the players down. It was good to see we got together, worked hard and got ourselves right for this game.”
Tuilagi was in devastating form, while Joe Cokanasiga also impressed, although Jones would prefer a more conservative approach to handling from the Bath wing.
Jones added: “He did some good things. The one-handed stuff’s great for you guys, but possibly he could carry with two hands at other times.
“He’s a young kid with great potential.”
Tuilagi showed why he is being linked with a lucrative move to the French Top 14 after the World Cup, which would make him ineligible for England.
Jones added: “We’ve taken his passport. So he’s not going to France in the next week. I’ve got it in my pocket.”
Italy head coach Conor O’Shea insisted his side are better than the result suggests and can finish on a high by beating France in Rome next week.
He said: “Sometimes you can over analyse things. We were overpowered. And they’re an unbelievably powerful side.
“They were a hurting side. But they’re the best side in the Six Nations, in my opinion.
“With the ball we caused problems and showed some really good moments in the match and we could’ve had more out of the match, instead of the couple of tries we got.”
Talismanic captain Sergio Parisse is optimistic of shrugging off a hamstring problem to play in what could be his final Six Nations game.
The unbeaten tournament leaders will complete their first clean sweep since 2012 if they can beat Ireland in Cardiff next Saturday, but they had to ride their luck in Edinburgh as Scotland mounted a second-half fightback.
Tries from Josh Adams and centre Jonathan Davies helped Wales to a 15-6 half-time lead but the wheels threatened to come off after the break.
Darcy Graham’s score set up a blockbuster finish but Wales hung on for an 18-11 victory that leaves Gatland on the verge of becoming the first coach to win three Grand Slams.
But the Kiwi confessed his side were guilty of eyeing up their decisive showdown with Ireland during the second half against Scotland.
🏴 18-11 🏴— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) 9 March 2019
As expected, a huge battle against an impressive @Scotlandteam - but Wales show strength and resolve to make it four from four in 2019 @SixNationsRugby.
Cymeriad rhyfeddol, perfformaid egnïol. Ymlaen i Gaerdydd gyda'r tîm uchelgeisiol Cymru. #HWFN #ForTheJersey pic.twitter.com/rYq3tUpoPb
“We were pretty comfortable during the first half but in fairness Scotland came out and put us under a lot of pressure in the second,” said Gatland.
“We’ve lost the second half 5-3 but we’ve shown some real character. There were a couple of moments towards the end when Scotland were attacking but we drove them back.
“Any team that’s won a Grand Slam – and I think back even to last year with Ireland and that Johnny Sexton drop goal – you look back at certain games and know you’ve had a little bit of luck.
“Maybe from a coaching perspective we needed to be a bit tougher at half-time. We talked at the break about being pretty comfortable and going out to deliver a second-half (performance). As a result, maybe we were thinking about next week and that Irish game.”
The build-up to the clash was dominated by domestic rugby politics in Wales, with a proposed merger between Scarlets and Ospreys being taken off the table.
Gatland admitted the debate had affected his team but praised them for shaking off the uncertainty to claim victory.
He said: “This is a fantastic group of men that are pretty tight. There’s no doubt this week has had an impact on the players.
“In fairness to them, after the early part of the week they have got on with the job. There’s obviously a lot of emotion involved with everybody, so I take my hat off to them for digging deep.
“We’ve spoken about forgetting how to lose and these guys are finding ways to win. I’m not sure in the past we’d have had the mental strength to keep Scotland out but these guys are finding ways to do that and that’s what good teams do.”
Scotland have now lost three successive games and face the daunting prospect of a trip to Twickenham next week to finish off their campaign.
Injuries to Tommy Seymour, Blair Kinghorn and Graham rubbed salt into their wounds and coach Gregor Townsend admitted he is still unsure whether star full-back Stuart Hogg will be back in time from a shoulder injury.
But his main frustration was the performance of French referee Pascal Gauzere, with Townsend questioning why he did not issue the visitors with a yellow card despite seeing them concede five penalties within their own 22.
He said: “We would obviously have liked to have won that game. We had errors – probably caused by the defence’s pressure. But we had chances.
“There were five penalties in the 22, and to not get anything from that seems like their indiscipline was rewarded and our pressure wasn’t.
“Was I surprised there was no yellow card? Yes. If teams are giving away penalties close to their own try line through cynical play, then you expect that to lead to yellow cards. That is how international rugby is refereed throughout the world.”