Sexton facing fitness race but O'Brien symptom-free
JOHNNY SEXTON is Ireland's primary concern for the clash against Wales in two weeks' time after tweaking his hamstring when converting Robbie Henshaw's try.
Ireland's talismanic out-half was replaced by Ian Madigan 14 minutes into the second half of Ireland's 19-9 win over England at the Aviva Stadium and is set to undergo scans on the muscle in the coming days.
His presence in the No 10 jersey against a resurgent Wales will be a key factor and while he praised his other options, Joe Schmidt conceded that the Racing Metro man is an integral to his set-up.
"Johnny has been outstanding for us for a number of years now. He is someone that other players defer to, he does run the game for us and he runs it very well," Schmidt said.
Sean O'Brien will go through the head injury assessment protocols after coming off the worst in a collision with George Ford.
The Leinster man had to be stopped from playing on by team doctor Dr Eanna Falvey after he struggled to get to his feet during the first half.
However, Schmidt said O'Brien was "a-symptomatic and a little grumpy that he didn't see out the match" after the game, but was not allowed to return to the fray after being tested.
Jared Payne, however, passed the tests when brought off during the last 10 minutes after shipping a blow but there wasn't time for him to come back on.
While he said he was taking 24 hours to enjoy yesterday's win before turning his attention to Wales, the New Zealander is already aware of Warren Gatland's side's improvement and is wary of the threat they'll pose in Cardiff.
Wales beat France 20-13 in Paris on Saturday and remain right in contention for the Championship with two games to go. An Ireland win would set up a Grand Slam decider against Scotland on the final day and a chance for Schmidt's side to retain their title.
"The Welsh have stepped up steadily and not for the first time. You know, I watched as a spectator two years ago when they lost their first game to Ireland and by the time they got to the end of the tournament they put a big score on England to win the championship," he said.
"I have had a look at them, I watched the game yesterday and I felt that they were in control of that game for the bulk of it and France had a little purple patch after half-time, maybe, but the longer the game went the more comfortable Wales looked.
"They're going to be very, very tough."