Johnny Sexton has started all three of Ireland’s Pool B games after missing the warm-up matches because of suspensionRugby World Cup: Pool B – Ireland v ScotlandVenue: Stade de France, Paris Date: Saturday, 7 October Kick-off: 20:00 BSTCoverage: Listen to live commentary on BBC Sounds, BBC Radio 5 Live & BBC Radio Ulster; follow text updates on the BBC Sport website and app
Ireland attack coach Mike Catt believes Johnny Sexton’s suspension in the build-up to the Rugby World Cup has ultimately benefited the team.
Sexton was banned for the warm-up games for misconduct towards match officials following Leinster’s Heineken Champions Cup final defeat by La Rochelle in May.
He has started Ireland’s three Pool B games and is expected to lead them out against Scotland in Paris on Saturday.
“I think it’s actually worked in our favour,” said Catt.
“He’s had a proper pre-season and his body’s been able to maintain the intensity of those Test matches, Tonga and South Africa, in the South Africa game he did 50-60 minutes and was very comfortable with it.”
Having injured his groin at the end of Ireland’s Six Nations Grand Slam triumph, Sexton had not played in nearly six months prior to the World Cup opener against Romania on 9 September.
The Irish captain quickly quelled any fears about him being undercooked for the tournament in France by scoring 24 points before surpassing Ronan O’Gara as the country’s record points scorer in the victory over Tonga in Nantes.
The fly-half again looked sharp as he helped Ireland win a bruising encounter against holders South Africa in Paris before the team’s rest week.
“It’s all about preparation and it’s probably the first time he’s had a proper pre-season injury free where he’s been able to knuckle down and get things done,” added Catt.
“All credit to him for putting that work in and getting himself up to that stage.
“It is what it is and he’s flying at the moment, playing exceptionally well and what he brings to the team is huge so long may it continue.”
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Catt also confirmed that lock James Ryan, who has captained Ireland in Sexton’s absence in the past, is “good” despite taking a knock to his hand in the South Africa game.
Ireland will top the group if they avoid defeat against the Scots or lose by seven points or fewer, likely setting up a mouth-watering quarter-final against New Zealand.
A Scotland win, while also denying Andy Farrell’s team a bonus point, would send them through and knock Ireland out.
Ireland, who have won 12 of their last 13 meetings with Scotland, underlined their credentials as one of the favourites for the World Cup by beating South Africa, but Catt insists they are comfortable dealing with heightened expectations.
“Very much so. I think the trip to New Zealand last year [when Ireland won the three-match Test series], and the Six Nations, we put ourselves in those situations, winning the Grand Slam on the back of that,” he said.
“We’re well aware. We understand what needs to be done and if we put in a performance in both defence and attack, there’s a good chance things will go our way.
“But it’s going to be a proper Test match and that’s why we play the game.”
Van der Merwe ‘extremely hard to stop’
Duhan van der Merwe was the player of the match in Scotland’s win over Tonga
Scotland approach Saturday’s crunch game in Paris on the back of a comprehensive victory over Romania in Lille, in which Gregor Townsend rested several players, including fly-half Finn Russell and wing Duhan van der Merwe.
Catt was complimentary when asked about Scotland’s attack, highlighting the dangerous Van der Merwe, who has scored 21 tries in 33 caps, as a key threat Ireland must nullify at the Stade de France.
“He’s probably one of those players that got away from South Africa, fortunately for Scotland,” he said of Edinburgh player Van der Merwe, who made his Scotland debut in 2020 having qualified under the three-year residency rule.
“He’s so dangerous with ball in hand. So strong, very effective in those wide channels and when he gets a roll on and gets on the front foot he’s extremely hard to stop.
“Him, Darcy Graham, [Kyle] Steyn, whoever plays in the back three, [Blair] Kinghorn, they’re all big guys, the offloading ability and speed is something we need to address and make sure we can stop.”