Jackson backed to fill void left by Sexton
Out-half and O'Mahony to miss Scotland game as Laidlaw insists Murray will be targeted again
Paddy Jackson will lead Ireland's backline into this year's Six Nations after Johnny Sexton's troublesome calf strain flared up on Monday.
The Leinster out-half has been ruled out of Saturday's opening game against Scotland along with hamstring victim Peter O'Mahony, while Andrew Trimble looks a major doubt after sitting out yesterday's on-field training session with a groin injury.
O'Mahony's injury simplifies Joe Schmidt's selection choice in the back-row, with Seán O'Brien expected to edge his battle with Josh van der Flier for the openside slot alongside CJ Stander and Jamie Heaslip, while Trimble's absence from training means Simon Zebo and Keith Earls are likely to be on the wings at Murrayfield.
The loss of Sexton in particular is a major blow to Ireland's chances but forwards coach Simon Easterby said Jackson has made big strides since wearing the No 10 shirt on the South Africa tour in June and against Australia last November. "He's built a leadership to his game that maybe a year or two ago he wouldn't have had," he said.
"Having had exposure and having had game-time in South Africa and leading Ulster as well, it's a massive learning curve, but one we feel he's able for.
"He's a confidence player like a lot of No 10s. When he's on his game he's really difficult to manage and he's a threat to the opposition both in the back field and the front line. He has great passing skills."
Sexton could return for next week's clash with Italy but his absence this weekend opens up a place in the match-day 23 for Ian Keatley or Rory Scannell to take a bench spot as Ian Madigan has not been called up to the squad.
Sexton's loss places yet more importance on Conor Murray's shoulders and Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw yesterday warned the Munster star to expect more of the same treatment he experienced against Glasgow Warriors three weeks ago.
Both Murray and Ireland coach Joe Schmidt have gone public to voice their concerns that the treatment meted out to the scrum-half during his side's Champions Cup win at Scotstoun was dangerous, with Murray alleging that the tactic of going after his standing leg was deliberate and premeditated.
His opposite number this weekend, Scotland captain Laidlaw, has fanned the flames of the dispute by dismissing those claims and says the Lion can expect more of the same this weekend.
"Glasgow did everything within the rules of the game. As a nine you are always going to get teams putting pressure on you," he said. "In that game, Glasgow got a charge-down on him but they were trying to get the ball back - they weren't trying to deliberately injure the player.
"Will we be putting pressure on him? For sure we will. He's not going to come to Murrayfield and get an armchair ride. We need to do that to every Irish player but we can expect the same back, I'm sure."
Laidlaw dismissed the notion that losing Sexton would significantly weaken Ireland.
"He has been struggling with injury so Ireland will probably have known that he wouldn't make Saturday a lot longer than we have," Laidlaw said. "I'm sure they have been training to cover that up.
"They have quality in behind, whether it be Paddy Jackson or the young fella coming in from Munster (Rory Scannell). Their strength in depth is one of their keys to Ireland's recent success.
"Sexton is a quality player of course but we can't focus on one player. We just need to fixate on ourselves and get that part right first and foremost.
"It won't affect us. We have done some in-depth analysis and we have a game plan we believe can give us the best possible chance of winning.
"Clearly we will need to know Ireland's personnel inside and out. Now that they are making a change at 10 we'll adjust."
Ireland, whose training session was watched by Lions coach Warren Gatland yesterday, will enjoy a down-day today before reconvening for training tomorrow ahead of Schmidt's team announcement and the short flight to Edinburgh.
Garry Ringrose is expected to be named at outside centre alongside Robbie Henshaw, with Schmidt also likely to stick with the front-row of Jack McGrath, Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong that started the key November games.
Donnacha Ryan looks set to hold off the challenge of Iain Henderson for the right to partner Devin Toner in the second-row, while Niall Scannell and James Tracy and Kieran Marmion and Luke McGrath are in battles for bench spots.