Jonathan Sexton has admitted he expects to be targeted by France in Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations clash at the Aviva Stadium but that it is nothing out of the ordinary.
The Ireland out-half has been on the sidelines since suffering a concussion playing against Australia in November.
That break from rugby took place under World Rugby protocols which state that a 12-week stand-down period must be observed if four concussions are suffered in the space of a year.
But the Racing Metro fly-half returned to the Ireland line-up this week as one of three changes to the starting XV that beat Italy 26-3 on the opening weekend of the tournament.
Sexton’s first concussion was suffered against giant France centre Mathieu Bastareaud, who he will face again this weekend.
Asked about being targeted by France, the 29-year-old said: “I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out that they are going to do that. We’ve expected that.
“I’m sure we’ll see Bastareaud coming down the channel, so hopefully that first tackle will get me into the game.”
Speaking exclusively to RTÉ Sport in an interview to be broadcast in full during TV build-up to tomorrow’s game (kick-off 5pm), Sexton said that France pivot Camile Lopez can expect the same treatment.
“I think it is no different to any other game, the out-half is going to get targeted" - Johnny Sexton
“I think it is no different to any other game, the out-half is going to get targeted. In most teams the out-half is the guy who calls the shots and tries to dictate play.
“You can make him more tired, make him make tackles or get him at the bottom of a ruck where he can’t control things. We’ll be trying to do the same.”
The IRFU issued a statement this evening in response to what it called “disappointing and inaccurate commentary” around Sexton’s return to action.
The statement said: “Player Welfare is the primary concern of the Ireland Medical and Management Team.
"All of the medical experts directly involved in the management of Johnny Sexton are satisfied that he is fit to return to the field of play.
“In light of some disappointing and inaccurate commentary in the media by individuals with no medical expertise, the IRFU would like to clarify some facts pertaining to the medical management of Ireland international Johnny Sexton.
“Johnny has been symptom-free for two months.
“Johnny was cleared to return to play on Thursday 5th February, 2015 by: 1) Independent neurologists in France and Ireland; 2) The FFR concussion review committee; 3) The Racing Metro medical team; and 4) The Ireland Medical team."
Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek, meanwhile, believes Sexton will take France's pledge to exploit any lingering weakness from his lay-off fully in his stride tomorrow.
Former France international Laurent Benezech has labelled Ireland's decision to pitch Sexton straight back into Six Nations action "a big mistake".
Feek believes it is "a credit" to Sexton that he is fully fit and itching for a Test return after his elongated absence.
France flanker Bernard Le Roux has joked his club-mate Sexton should "wear a helmet" in the showdown.
Les Bleus boss Philippe Saint-Andre was not being light-hearted when pledging to send wrecking-ball centre Bastareaud straight down Sexton's channel from the off this weekend, however.
"Johnny's selected, he's been keen to play and he's fine," said Feek.
"We don't really comment on outside opinions.
"We've got brilliant medical staff and strength and conditioning staff, and we all work together on that process.
"Then the players themselves are involved in that.
"When is the right time? What is the right game? That's the big question-mark.
"We felt this was it. He did everything he needed to do, so it's a credit to the player to be available at this point as well."