Ireland confident officials will keep across late hits in Six Nations opener against France

Ireland are confident experienced referee Nigel Owens will keep across any late tackles in their Six Nations opener against France on Saturday, says forwards coach Simon Easterby.

Johnny Sexton was the subject of a number of late hits at the Stade de France two years ago when Ireland suffered a 10-9 defeat in the 2016 edition of the Six Nations.

Joe Schmidt’s Ireland begin their campaign against Jacques Brunel’s France and Easterby is confident that Owens will keep across any on-field collisions, on both sides, which could cross the line.

Asked if Ireland had any fears of a repeat of the overtly-physical treatment from two years ago, Easterby said: “No, we have to trust the guys in the middle and the fourth official, making sure we get the right adjudication.

“The game every year is becoming critical of those players who go outside the law; it’s not now possible to do certain things that you used to get away with when I was playing and that is for the betterment of the game.

“I am sure Nigel Owens and his team will have full control of that. We don’t have any concerns about what is going to happen out there and we trust the guys in the middle will be able to control things and see everything.

“We just want consistency. We have been aware through meetings and communication with the referees about certain things that they are going to be focusing on a little bit more.

“As long as we have consistency and it is the same for both sides that’s all we can ask. That allows us to prepare the players and guide them in the working week so that on the weekend they see those things pan out.”

Easterby admitted the Ireland coaching staff have found it hard to analyse their new-look opponents, who have included several uncapped squad players for the seven-week tournament.

“There are a couple of players who have come in with one or two caps or some who haven’t been capped before; I think there are six new caps in there,” said Easterby.

“It does give them an advantage in that we haven’t seen them play together before for France but we have done a lot of homework and we know individually what they can do.

“Bordeaux Begles were playing a certain way under Jacques Brunel so we try and take bits from various things. Other than that we are going to focus on what we can really well, what we can control.

“If we do that then we are getting the balance right, knowing that we haven’t seen them play together as a team under the new management.”