Johnny come home
Brian O'Driscoll admits it would boost Ireland's World Cup hopes if the union was able to buy Johnny Sexton out of his Racing Metro contract.
Ireland's coaching staff hope fly-half Sexton will be able to train on Tuesday, to end confusion surrounding his thumb ligament strain.
"We'll receive a further specialist review on Monday, and the hope is that he will be made available to us to train on Tuesday," said Ireland team manager Michael Kearney.
French Top 14 club Racing last week predicted Sexton would miss between 10 days and six weeks with the thumb problem he suffered in the 13-10 England defeat.
The Irish Rugby Football Union quickly released a statement clarifying Ireland's medics still expected him to recover in time to face Italy this Saturday.
Sexton's move from Leinster to France last summer leaves the IRFU unable to control when he plays and when he rests.
The 28-year-old suffered for overwork during Ireland's autumn Test schedule, picking up a hamstring strain after 13 club games in just 10 weeks.
Now this latest injury wrangle underlines head coach Joe Schmidt's complaint that Ireland had "lost control of the player".
Sexton is contracted at Racing until summer 2015, but there have been suggestions the IRFU will seek to buy him out of the second year of his French contract to bring him back to Leinster.
British and Irish Lions playmaker Sexton could see out his Racing deal and still return to Ireland in time for the World Cup, but he has struggled to settle in France and the Paris club have also endured a mixed campaign.
Stalwart centre O'Driscoll refused to comment on behind-the-scenes dealings, but admitted Sexton's return would be a boost to boss Schmidt's preparations for the World Cup in England next year.
"I don't want to talk out of turn where Johnny is contracted to Racing, and I think it would be disrespectful to them to say we were looking at taking him away from them," he said.
"I think everyone is in agreement that we didn't want to see him go, and if a situation arose where he did come back, and some agreement was made, I don't see that possibly being a negative.
"I know that he'd be welcomed back into the fold from a provincial point of view.
"And I'm sure the national management would like to be able to control his game-time a little bit more than they currently can.
"I suppose it's one just to wait out and we'll see what happens."
Centre Luke Marshall is out of Saturday's Italy clash after suffering a concussion in Ulster's routine home victory over Newport Dragons on Friday night.
The 22-year-old suffered three quickfire concussions last term that led to him being unable to tour North America with Ireland in the summer.
Ireland bosses hope flanker Peter O'Mahony will train fully on Tuesday after hamstring trouble, to prove his fitness to face Italy in the weekend's penultimate RBS 6 Nations clash.