JONATHAN SEXTON is expected to make a return to the Ireland team for Saturday's final Six Nations Championship game against Italy in Rome.
The Ireland out-half is confident of being fit for the game after recovering from a hamstring tear suffered against England on February 10 and was included in the squad of players called into camp at the team's Carton House base last night.
"Jonathan expects to be fit for the game on Saturday," confirmed a source close to the player.
Sexton's likely availability is a massive boost to an Ireland squad that has been decimated by injuries and will, in particular, be a welcome fillip for his coach, who is undoubtedly feeling the strain nearing the end of what has been a particularly arduous campaign.
Ireland's promising start to the championship quickly turned to dust with losses to England and Scotland as the injury count increased with every passing week.
Ireland played against France without 12 players who would have been in the running for a place in the squad and the injury count has increased again following the weekend's action.
Eoin Reddan's season is over after he fractured his tibia, and he will undergo surgery today, while Fergus McFadden has also been ruled out with a suspected broken rib.
An initial X-ray on McFadden on Saturday showed up nothing more serious than bruising but a scan yesterday revealed the more serious injury that will also threaten his participation in Leinster's Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final against Wasps on April 5.
Donnacha Ryan was also in the wars and suffered a recurrence of the shoulder injury that has been affecting him for a number of weeks.
Ryan's participation in Rome is far from certain as a consequence.
Brian O'Driscoll and Luke Marshall both suffered concussion during Saturday's game and will be assessed as the week progresses before a determination on their likely availability for the trip to Rome is made.