Sexton thumb injury gives World Cup rivals chance to impress Schmidt

Johnny Sexton. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Ireland's World Cup preparations have been disrupted by an injury to World Rugby Player of the Year Johnny Sexton who is currently unable to participate in full training.

The out-half suffered a thumb injury during the first two-week bloc of training that took place between June 16 and 28.

The issue, believed to be a dislocation, could keep him sidelined for between four and six weeks but he may be fit in time for the opening World Cup warm-up game against Italy at the Aviva Stadium on August 10.

The problem will not threaten the 33-year-old's prospects for the tournament itself, but his absence from training is not ideal for Joe Schmidt.

The coach has tasked the players with hitting the ground running since their return, with reports of hugely intense on-field sessions from the off as the 44-man squad prepare for the tournament in September.

After taking a week off, they re-assembled in Galway this week where they will host an open training session at The Sportsground on Friday.

Sexton's inability to take part in team runs opens the door for Joey Carbery, Jack Carty and Ross Byrne to impress as the battle to get on the plane to Japan intensifies ahead of the programme of friendlies in August and September.

After Italy, Ireland have a week off and then travel to Portugal to prepare for their clash with England at Twickenham, before facing Wales home and away. Schmidt is due to name his final panel after the last warm-up game.

Sexton and Carbery are almost certain to travel if fit, while Carty is currently ahead of Leinster's Byrne after impressing the management during the Six Nations.

However, Byrne finished the season strongly and impressed in his province's Guinness PRO14 semi-final win over Munster.

Sexton's injury will afford his understudies time to impress Schmidt who is also weighing up how many half-backs he will bring to the tournament given the constraints of the 31-player squad limit.

Ireland are expected to provide an update when they host their first media briefing since the end of the Six Nations at Friday's session.

When contacted for comment, an IRFU spokesman said the union "does not comment on speculation, especially when it comes to any players' private medical information".