Sunday 15 December 2019

Johnny Sexton hoping to prove fitness ahead of Ireland's Six Nations opener

Johnny Sexton should be named in Ireland's RBS 6 Nations squad despite facing a race against time to be fit for the tournament opener against Scotland.

Pivotal fly-half Sexton is expected to be given every chance to find fitness for Ireland's first Six Nations clash, at Murayfield on Saturday, February 4.

The 31-year-old limped out of Leinster's 24-24 Champions Cup draw in Castres on Friday night with calf trouble, but the extent of the injury is yet to be determined.

Ireland boss Joe Schmidt will name his squad for the first two rounds of Six Nations action on Monday, with Sexton likely to be included, especially with Leinster boss Leo Cullen feeling not unduly worried by the issue.

"It was just a bit of tightness," said Cullen.

"And when he feels that, he was almost making the call (to come off) himself."

Fast-developing hooker James Tracy could step up in the wake of a hamstring injury to Leinster club-mate Sean Cronin that has ruled the experienced front-rower out of the tournament.

Hugely-impressive young Leinster centre Garry Ringrose could well be in position to reprise his provincial midfield partnership with Robbie Henshaw for the bulk of Ireland's Six Nations campaign.

The 21-year-old heads the queue to replace Jared Payne at outside centre, with the Ulster star likely to miss the tournament owing to long-term kidney trouble.

Payne will prove a big miss for Ireland, given he has acted as the defensive captain for Schmidt's backline.

But Leinster backs coach Girvan Dempsey believes Ringrose now boasts the defensive acumen to thrive in that crucial outside centre role with Ireland.

"Defence is so much more than raw power, it's not coming up and smashing guys, it's about reading the game to be in the right position, in terms of footwork, timing and style of tackling," Dempsey told Press Association Sport.

"And Garry sees the picture in front of him in terms of defence really well, and there's good connections with guys all around him as well.

"He's developing a good partnership with Robbie (Henshaw) now as well, that's really coming on nicely.

"But he's also a very physical defender, he's extremely committed to that part of the game and can certainly offer a punch in the tackle."

British and Irish Lions scrum-half Conor Murray is free to extend his fine recent form, cleared entirely after a recent head-injury scare with Munster.

The Thomond Park province had their head-injury assessment processes vindicated by European bosses following the 14-12 win over Glasgow on January 14.

Munster were investigated by European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) for their handling of a potential head injury to Murray, but had their processes backed after the review.

That leaves Murray free to boss Ireland's half-backs, but also likely to face more roughhouse treatment from opponents akin to what he faced from Glasgow, who were so desperate to nullify his varied threats.

PA Media

The Left Wing: John Cooney on Ulster's European run and bouncing back from World Cup disappointment

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport