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Ireland refuse to be drawn into ‘sideshow’ over Sexton

Johnny Sexton takes to the field at Twickenham, yesterday.

Johnny Sexton takes to the field at Twickenham, yesterday.

Rory Best has insisted Ireland will not be dragged into Eddie Jones’s “sideshow” on Johnny Sexton’s welfare ahead of today’s Six Nations clash with England.

England boss Jones questioned the wisdom of Ireland fielding fly-half Sexton following his latest fitness scare, a “whiplash injury” in the 10-9 defeat to France on February 13.

Jones claimed Sexton’s parents “would be worried” about his long-term health, heightening tensions especially given the Leinster fly-half’s history of being stood down for 12 weeks in 2014 after four concussions inside 12 months.

Ireland have been at pains all week to rise above England coach Jones’s verbal barbs ahead of today’s Twickenham encounter, and hooker Best followed suit.

“There’s a lot of things going on in the media, we have enough going on with our own stuff,” said Best.

“We’re not worried about that. We’ve got to make sure we’re as close to perfect as we can be. Everything else apart from the rugby is a sideshow that we don’t want to get involved in.

“All we know is that Johnny’s a quality player.”

Privately, Ireland are understood to have been frustrated by Jones’s comments, especially given Sexton’s head injury history.

Sexton appeared dazed when withdrawn in Paris.

A host of columnists have suggested Sexton should seriously consider early retirement in light of his concussion profile, but Ireland’s coaches insist the top specialist medics have handed him a clean bill of health.

England boss Jones bristled when asked whether there could be any justification in targeting players in the modern game, in light of his comments on Sexton.

Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek insisted England will gain short shrift in targeting one of the side’s most committed and gritty defenders in any case.

“Johnny’s probably one of the hardest-working and most physical players around,” said Feek.

“He might not necessarily look it, but he’s very strong.

“Occasionally he’ll get his head up or shoulder down and make a big hit. Whatever’s said elsewhere, you don’t want to be distracted by any of that. For us, we don’t target players because there’s not enough time to worry about that.”

Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey and Leinster flanker Josh van der Flier will make their Test debuts in today’s Twickenham clash, with Ireland still seeking their first win of the tournament.

Six Nations

Played yesterday: Wales vs France 19-10.

Today: 15.25 Italy vs Scotland; 17.50 England vs Ireland.

Standings: Wales 5 (2-1-0); England 4 (2-0-0); France 4 (2-0-1); Ireland 1 (0-1-1); Scotland 0 (0-0-2); Italy 0 (0-0-2).

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