Sexton fit to face Italians as Henderson favourite to fill O'Mahony void
JOHNNY SEXTON looks likely to start against Italy on Saturday as Ireland forwards coach John Plumtree admitted the lure of winning the championship means Joe Schmidt will name the strongest possible team for the penultimate Six Nations game.
The fly-half trained at Carton House yesterday, subbing in and out with Paddy Jackson during team runs, and appeared to show no ill-effects of the thumb ligament injury that kept him out of action for Racing Metro last weekend.
Sexton will be monitored over the next 48 hours before Schmidt names his team tomorrow, while Peter O'Mahony remains the major doubt after he trained separately to the rest of the squad yesterday. His likely absence will see Iain Henderson and Rhys Ruddock battle it out for the No 6 jersey, with the Ulster man the favourite to get the nod.
Otherwise, it looks like Schmidt will resist the urge to make changes to the team that leads the Six Nations after losing narrowly at Twickenham.
"We've got two big games. We need all best players available. It's no time for resting them now – it's not the right time at all," assistant coach Plumtree said.
"Joe is going to make those final calls but I'm sure if Johnny is available he'll play. It's a short competition, isn't it?
"We've got ourselves in a situation where we're top of the table, albeit by points difference and we've got two really tough matches.
"We're not taking Italy lightly at all playing players in their first games or anything. If there's going to be changes I would say it's going to be forced. We want this championship badly and the players want it really badly."
While he will not feature this weekend, Tommy Bowe could yet come into the reckoning for the final game in Paris and it is expected that he will train with the rest of the panel tomorrow as he continues his return from a groin injury.