Johnny Sexton has challenged Ireland to honour Cian Healy’s 100th cap by claiming a fourth Six Nations crown in seven years.
British and Irish Lions prop Healy should bring up his Test century in Saturday’s mouthwatering showdown against France in Paris.
Ireland can add another Six Nations crown to their 2014, 2015 and 2018 triumphs at the Stade de France – but must pull off an unprecedented bonus-point win in the French capital to be certain of holding off title rivals England.
Captain Sexton believes Ireland can carve out the openings for four scores in Paris, but conceded converting them will be a different matter entirely against the resurgent hosts.
Healy can become Ireland’s sixth Test centurion this weekend, leaving Sexton paying tribute to the combative 33-year-old front-rower.
“If Cian gets picked it’s an incredible feat; you look at the guys that have 100 caps, you don’t get there easily,” said Sexton.
“Every player in that category is a legend of the game in Ireland, and he’ll add himself to that legacy if he gets that cap. And he deserves it, he’s so professional.
“He had the one very serious injury, and he put in an unbelievable amount of work to get back from that.
“I’m good friends with him and I know that he and his family would be hugely proud of that.
“So it’s another little layer onto our story. If it is his 100th cap we want to honour him in the best way possible, and the way to do that is by winning the game.”
And while the visitors may need to break new ground to lift the title, Sexton believes they have the wherewithal to pull off that first bonus-point win in France.
Asked to explain the size of the task, Sexton said: “I suppose we just have to wait and see, all we can control at the moment is our performance.
“So we’ve just had to emphasise to everyone that we need to get performance right no matter what.
“We’re still going to have to play well no matter what, so let’s focus on that aspect.
“We know if we perform well we’ll create chances, so we’ll have to take them, we’ll need to be clinical.”
Leinster prop Healy’s stellar Ireland career was so nearly halted by a horror neck injury, but the bullish ball-carrier has battled past a host of setbacks to stand on the cusp of that 100-cap milestone.
Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara, Rory Best, Paul O’Connell and John Hayes are the only Irishmen to reach the 100 mark.
Asked where sealing a Six Nations on the occasion of his 100th cap wound rank, Healy said: “I don’t know, I’m not sure. I don’t tend to do rankings and things like that of achievements.
“The Grand Slam was a big one, there’s Heineken Cups, there’s lots of big ones. I just want to continue to add more towards success and not looking for number one achievements. I have loads of number one achievements that were all huge amounts of success with different groups of players.
“This time it’s our opportunity to have success with this group. Whenever that day comes you’ll think back on them, but there’s no time to think back now.
“This is an opportunity to win a medal and a trophy and play with the lads.
“Hopefully I get a shot to do it if selected. It will be an unbelievably tough challenge but something this group is hugely capable of.
“Hopefully I’ll get selected and there’s something much bigger than anything individual to play for.
“So I’m just trying to brush it aside at the moment and go towards that bigger thing.”