Injury-plagued Johnny Sexton set to take time out from the game
Joe Schmidt has revealed that Johnny Sexton could take some time out of the game after his latest injury set-back.
The Ireland out-half damaged his right hamstring in the defeat to New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium after struggling with his left hamstring in the lead-in to November.
The 31-year-old has been plagued by a variety of injuries since touring with the Lions and moving to Racing 92 in 2013 and the latest issue could see the IRFU and Leinster agree to allow him some time off to get the injury right.
Whether the province share their former coach's view remains to be seen, given they are light on experience at out-half after Ian Madigan's departure. Leinster have four European pool games and two interprovincial derbies before the Six Nations and ideally would like to have their play-maker available.
Although Paddy Jackson deputised well on Saturday, Sexton remains the IRFU's top-earner and the most important player in Schmidt's team.
Asked for an update on him and Henshaw, who was ruled out of Saturday's game as a result of the concussion he suffered against New Zealand, the coach revealed he was considering giving Sexton a break.
"I'd like to think they're relatively short-term (injuries)," he said.
"Robbie was pretty sore, he was pretty knocked about and that's disappointing.
"Johnny, I got asked last week does he need a window of time to really make sure that he can be more robust and that's probably one of the things that comes up for discussion now that this window is over.
"So some of those discussions will take place and we'll have a clearer picture after that."
It is not clear what Schmidt has in mind for Sexton. Mid-career sabbaticals have become a growing trend in rugby and Australia's David Pocock will take a year out of the game after playing England on Saturday.
More likely, Sexton will take a short break and be back in time for the Six Nations. Leinster will provide more clarity on the situation in the coming weeks.
Certainly, the issue of injuries continues to linger with this Ireland team for whom a memorable November has come at a price.
A hip-flexor strain saw Sean O'Brien ruled out before the game, while for the second week in succession, Ireland lost three players to first-half injury; this time all three replacements came in the backline as Schmidt was forced to field a makeshift combination for the entire second half.
However, he had no regrets about starting Rob Kearney or Jared Payne who were both major doubts coming into the game.
Kearney finished the win over New Zealand, but displayed concussion symptoms afterwards and went through the 'return to play' protocols last week. He cleared the criteria to play, but suffered another head injury after being hit late by Israel Folau and had to be replaced. He left the field for a Head Injury Assessment and didn't return.
Andrew Trimble followed after damaging his ankle, before Payne, who came into the game with a leg problem, took a shot to the ribs and left the fray at half-time.
"Jared was middling coming into the game, but he's an important voice for us, so he worked his way through the first half," Schmidt said.
"He got a decent whack in the ribs at one stage, a totally new injury, but it didn't really help his sense of well-being.
"Rob had passed all the steps along the way, they just didn't want to take a chance (on the pitch). The one thing that they know is we'll defer to the least risky option, particularly around a head injury.
"I've no problem with Rob coming off, and we had a ready-made replacement with Simon (Zebo) having played a lot at full-back for us. He just didn't realise that he was going to be required to shift to the wing, Joey (Carbery) to full-back, and Kieran (Marmion) to the wing."
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