Monday 21 August 2017

Ireland boss Joe Schmidt expects Johnny Sexton to be fit for Scotland clash

Joe Schmidt is confident he will have two key men available for Ireland's clash with Scotland
Joe Schmidt is confident he will have two key men available for Ireland's clash with Scotland

Joe Schmidt insists Johnny Sexton will be fit for Ireland's RBS 6 Nations opener in Scotland despite the fly-half still carrying a calf injury.

Sexton suffered his latest leg injury in Leinster's 24-24 Champions Cup draw at Castres on Friday, but Ireland boss Schmidt expects the influential playmaker to return to full training next week.

Ireland will open their Six Nations campaign at Murrayfield on Saturday, February 4, with Sexton now expected to be fit to start.

"Johnny took a bruised calf into the game against Castres and it just tightened up," said Schmidt.

"There's not a lot of damage there, nothing's showing up that's overly significant.

"Johnny's already starting back doing a little bit.

"We'd be confident he'll be able to train next week and therefore be fully available to face Scotland."

Sean O'Brien has also been fighting a calf complaint, but Schmidt insisted the Leinster back-rower will also be available for the Scotland clash.

"He's slightly further ahead than Johnny," said Schmidt of O'Brien.

"We're confident he may train before the end of the week fully, but he should train fully next week."

Schmidt has confirmed that uncapped Munster playmaker Rory Scannell will provide the 40-man squad's third option at fly-half.

Schmidt overlooked Bordeaux's Ian Madigan given his situation as plying his club trade overseas, but insisted the former Leinster fly-half could yet come back into the reckoning later in the tournament.

While Rory Scannell operates primarily at centre, Schmidt insisted the fast-improving Munster midfielder would cope if pitched in at 10.

"The first time I saw Rory play for Dolphin against Belvedere he had a fantastic game at 10," said Schmidt.

"There's a big difference between that and Murrayfield but he would be the guy who could cover there.

"We've also got Paddy Jackson available obviously.

"Ian had an injury earlier in the season so he hasn't had a lot of rugby really. I've kept in touch with Ian.

"He would slot back in pretty seamlessly for us, so that's still something potentially that we could look at."

The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) have no hard and fast policy on selecting overseas players, but have been clear about favouring those based on home soil.

Schmidt insisted Madigan was well aware of the potential limbo he could find for himself when he traded Leinster for Bordeaux.

"Ian hasn't been too far from the mix," said Schmidt. "He missed out for South Africa in the summer then ended up coming for all three Tests.

"Ian didn't go to France easily, he went there being hopeful he would get a continuity of playing 10, running a team, growing himself as a player to be able to do that for Ireland still at the same time.

"It's an investment for him in himself and the player he wants to be.

"I understand that investment, but we do favour the players who are playing in Ireland, and he understands that as well."

Ireland finished third last year in fending off a host of injuries having won the title in 2014 and 2015.

Schmidt now admitted he will seek a top-two finish this term, with Ireland obviously buoyed from the 40-29 win over New Zealand in November.

Schmidt has installed defending champions England as favourites, branding Eddie Jones' side "indomitable".

"A top-two finish would be great," said Schmidt.

"I know last year I said a top-three finish would be good given where we were at the time. But I think we've got to strive to get in that top two again now though.

"It's hard to say anything beyond that, because I think this Six Nations will be the most competitive I'll have been involved in.

"There's so many teams that have good reference points from November and good continuity, and the way Glasgow are going for Scotland at the moment, that's the core of their team with class on top too.

"There's a lot going for a lot of teams.

"Obviously England are top of the pile, and for the last 13, 14 months they have been indomitable.

"To go to Australia and produce those three results was exceptional, and obviously they got the Grand Slam last year."

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