'We know we are under the hammer' - Joe Schmidt gives injured Sexton until Tuesday to prove fitness
Johnny Sexton has until Tuesday to prove his fitness in time for next Saturday's Six Nations clash with France after he took no part in Ireland's team training session yesterday, but Joe Schmidt looks likely to have to cope without Josh van der Flier, who injured his shoulder while playing for Leinster last night.
Sexton did a sprint routine on the back pitch at Monaghan RFC as part of his rehabilitation from a calf injury as Paddy Jackson ran the backline in front of around 3,000 fans at the open session.
Rob Kearney was also on rehab duty as he did some running behind one goal as he recuperates from his bicep tendon injury, while Conor Murray sat out training due to his workload being managed. Peter O'Mahony, Iain Henderson and Andrew Trimble were among the players who trained fully.
O'Mahony's return could prove timely after Van der Flier was forced off early during Leinster's win over Edinburgh last night after suffering a serious-looking shoulder injury.
Schmidt was upbeat on Sexton and Kearney despite their staying out of harm's way at training. He said Sexton would need to perform in his limited window to make it to displace Jackson after his limited action since November.
"That's just another of those decisions we have to make," he said. "Part of that would probably be based on (whether) Johnny does put his hand up, how well does he train on Tuesday.
"I think Johnny starts a ripple in the team, very often. He is in a hub position, where a lot of his confidence goes through the team, and Paddy's growing that all the time.
"Johnny did some high-speed running today, he'll do some volume running over the weekend, and then he should be fit to go in and out of training on Monday and then train fully on Tuesday.
"Rob's hitting all his markers. We're quietly confident there more than overtly confident, but as long as he keeps going in the direction he's going, we'd hope that he'll take a full part in training on Tuesday."
Simon Zebo stood in for Kearney at training yesterday and is expected to be named at full-back, with Trimble coming on to the wing, if Kearney fails to make it.
Schmidt conceded that his side are under pressure for the rest of this year's Six Nations. Admitting that defeat to Scotland had put his team "under the hammer", the New Zealander wants the players to respond and show their mettle in the remaining games at home to the French, away to Wales and against England at the Aviva Stadium on March 18.
"We know we are under the hammer. How the players respond when they are under the hammer, we will find out a little bit I guess," Schmidt said. "We're not happy to be where we are but we're excited about the challenge we have got."
Meanwhile, Munster's Champions Cup ambitions have been hit by news that second-row Jean Kleyn will miss their quarter-final meeting with Toulouse in April with a neck injury.