Thursday 22 March 2018

Heaslip a concern for Schmidt who hits out at Sexton concussion 'scaremongering'

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Jamie Heaslip has emerged as a major doubt for the rest of the Six Nations campaign.

The Ireland No8 is undergoing tests on his lower back after being the victim of a Pascal Pape knee during the second half of Saturday's win over France. The second-row was sin binned, but Heaslip (pictured, right) was forced off and was described as "uncomfortable" by coach Joe Schmidt.

There are concerns that Heaslip may have damaged his vertebrae which would put his entire season in doubt. The IRFU will issue an update on his condition today.

Johnny Sexton, meanwhile, has returned to France after coming through his first game in three months relatively unscathed and with the Man of the Match award in his back pocket - he will play for Racing Metro against Clermont on Saturday.

Schmidt will assemble his squad in Galway today for a three-day camp to begin preparations for Sunday week's clash with England.

As promised, France tested Sexton's defensive mettle early and often and, although he needed stitches after a clash of heads with Mathieu Bastareaud, he passed his concussion tests and returned to the pitch.

"I need game time, don't I? I've been away for 12 weeks and I did feel a bit rusty at times tonight, so I think I'll be better with another 50 or 60 minutes," Sexton said.

"Then we play England on Sunday and there's a short turnaround for Racing's next game against Grenoble, so that will be one that maybe we'll have to manage in terms of if I play three games on the bounce, whereas at the moment I'm mad keen to get back and get more game time."

Schmidt was pleased with his out-half's return, but hit out at what he felt was "scaremongering" by commentators, including former France international Laurent Benezech in the build-up to the game.

The ex-Harlequins player questioned the coach's decision to select Sexton and his duty of care to the player.

The IRFU felt compelled to issue a statement on the eve of the game to address the issue and, having answered questions on the process that Sexton went through when being assessed during the early stages of the second-half on Saturday after his clash with Mathieu Bastareaud, the New Zealander addressed the issue head on.

"If I can say it any more plainly, that Johnny is fine and we take the very best medical and professional advice on our players," he said.

"We have absolute faith in our medical people, we rely on them and not someone external who decides they're going to voice an opinion and then be given a platform to voice it to almost scaremonger their way through the concussion issue.

"The statement that was released yesterday was pretty clear and simple about that and I can guarantee that Johnny is 100pc fit apart from some stitches and a bit of a black eye."

Heaslip is the main injury concern ahead of the England game. The No8 has been struggling with a shoulder injury since early January and also had heavy strapping on his left knee during Saturday's game.

Schmidt is also monitoring the fitness of Rob Kearney who injured his shoulder when trying to stop Romain Taofifenua's try as he assembles a squad of 20-22 players in Galway, while releasing those who need game time to their provinces.

"We'll have a look at who does need some game time and then try to balance that out and make some decisions probably by Monday morning," he said.

"By then we'll have any feedback on Jamie and Rob. He got a knock on his shoulder, you'll have seen him go down, just the way he fell, so we'll get that checked out. He was pretty sore.

"So they are a couple of guys we've got to look at and if those guys don't go to camp we'll probably include another couple of guys to run in their place.

"So we'll just see, it could be a group of about 20, maybe 22 players."

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