Six Nations 2015: Johnny Sexton needs to start against France

Munster out-half Ian Keatley believes his rival needs to be in the Ireland team as France prepare to visit Dublin

Ian Keatley expects to make way for Ireland talisman Johnny Sexton when Ireland line up against France at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

The Munster out-half finished Ireland’s 26-3 Six Nations opening win over Italy with a perfect goal-kicking record in Rome in what was a hard-fought encounter despite the scoreline.

Despite a solid performance against the Azzurri, the 27-year-old is likely to be shunted back into a supporting role by Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt with Racing Metro star Sexton given clearance to return from an enforced 12-week concussion lay-off.

He’s one of the best out-halves in the world so to be honest I presume that he’s going to be straight in there for the French match, even though he hasn’t played in a while.

Ian Keatley

Sexton was instrumental in guiding Ireland to the Six Nations title 11 months ago, notably in the 22-20 win over Les Bleus in Paris on the final day of the championship.

It was only the second time in 42 years that Ireland had gone to Paris and won, and Sexton more than weighed in, scoring 17 of their 22 points through two tries, two conversions and a penalty.

“To be honest Johnny’s done so well over the last three or four years he deserves the number-one position,” said Keatley.

“He’s one of the best out-halves in the world so to be honest I presume that he’s going to be straight in there for the French match, even though he hasn’t played in a while.

“He’s still been keeping fit and you need Johnny Sexton in your team.”

Sexton, who will return to Leinster after the Rugby World Cup, was ordered by a French neurologist to spend three months on the sideline after he was concussed in a collision with team-mate Rob Kearney in Ireland’s win over Australia in November.

I know that Johnny is number one, but you can’t just accept that. If you’re looking to play second-fiddle to someone the whole time you’re not going to improve personally.

Ian Keatley

It was a fourth concussion in 12 months, which promoted the precautionary measure, leaving Keatley and Leinster’s Ian Madigan fighting for the famous number 10 jersey after Ulster’s Paddy Jackson was ruled out.

After Madigan failed to shine for the Ireland Wolfhounds in their defeat to England Saxons in Cork on 31 January, it was Keatley who was given the chance to shine with his first Six Nations start alongside provincial half-back Conor Murray.

While he will take a back seat in this season’s campaign and continue his battle with the more versatile Madigan to be Sexton’s deputy, Keatley still has ambitions on becoming number one for Ireland, but knows he still has some way to go if he is to oust the 29-year-old British Lion, who was shorlisted for World Rugby’s player of the year award in 2014.

“I can take a lot of confidence from playing in Italy, but also I need to know where I want to get to,” Keatley added.

“I know that Johnny is number one, but you can’t just accept that. If you’re looking to play second-fiddle to someone the whole time you’re not going to improve personally.

“So that’s what I want to do, I want to keep improving and just keep challenging Johnny and hopefully play in more big games like this.

“With the sub position I don’t know what’s going to happen there, I’m just delighted with the win in Italy first and foremost.

“And I can still iron out things in my performance. I’m sure I’ll go through it with Joe and just look to improve.”

Schmidt will name his team to play France on Thursday morning.

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