JOHNNY SEXTON says he will not be available for Ireland's opening Six Nations game against Italy despite reports in France yesterday offering fresh hope that he would be cleared to play.
The Racing Metro fly-half is almost two-thirds of the way through an enforced 12-week period out of the game due to him suffering four concussions during 2014.
His return-to-play date remains the second game of Ireland's Championship defence against France on Dublin on February 14.
"I wish," he said when asked by Newstalk's Off the Ball if an early return was on the cards. "The club would like to have me back for the big European games, and to miss any game for Ireland is a massive blow.
"It's what you play rugby for, those big days, to miss that is gutting. I'd like to, but the doctor has my best interests at heart. There's lots of things to consider.
"I'm feeling a lot better, this is week seven of the 12 weeks I've been told to take. I'm feeling better and training harder every week with less symptoms, which is great and exactly what the doctor wanted.
"It's around this week that he told me I'd be feeling perfect and mad keen to get back into it, which I am, and he told me this is when I have to be patient. I'm already itching to get back involved in the big games coming up in Europe with Racing ,which won't be possible, and then the Six Nations - I'll be mad keen to get back in but I have to take the 12 weeks and take what feels like punishment, but that's the way it's got to be.
"Hopefully, I can do contact in a few weeks when I meet the doctor. I'll have to do a couple of contact sessions to be considered.
"My return-to-play date is February 14, the Ireland v France game, and if I want to be considered for that I'll have to do some contact sessions.
"Even then, I don't know if I'll be considered for that by the coaches, given I won't have played for 12 weeks. I'll let them make that decision. I'll just come into camp in the best shape possible."
Joe Schmidt was yesterday boosted by the return of Jared Payne, Keith Earls and Marty Moore to provincial action, with the tighthead prop starting Leinster's clash with Cardiff today and the backs on the bench for Ulster and Munster for their respective trips to Italy.