Tuesday 21 November 2017

Johnny Sexton and Paddy Jackson likely to face off in training ground head-to-head

Ireland's Paddy Jackson
Ireland's Paddy Jackson
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Johnny Sexton is unlikely to be released to Leinster for their Guinness Pro12 game against Edinburgh on Friday despite his lack of recent game-time.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt said his out-half would "definitely" be fit to play against France on Saturday week along with Peter O'Mahony and Andrew Trimble, but said the priority will be for the out-half to take full part in Ireland's three-day camp in Monaghan this week to get back in the groove. The New Zealander was upbeat on the fitness of Robbie Henshaw and Rob Kearney who came off during the second half of Saturday's hammering of Italy, believing the centre to have picked up a dead leg and the full-back to have received an elbow to his bicep. A decision on whether either needs further assessment or scans will be made early in the week.

Sexton's return means that Paddy Jackson is set to drop out of the team for the Round Three fixture.

Schmidt was asked if the Ulster out-half had made it a difficult decision, but refused to give an answer saying: "I don't have any thoughts about that."

He was slightly more expansive when asked about the prospect of Sexton, who has played precious little rugby since November, donning the blue jersey this weekend to prove he's recovered from his calf injury and get some competitive game-time.

"Potentially," he said of releasing Sexton to Leinster. "The problem with that is yes, it would be good for him to get some game-time, but we have Wednesday-Friday in camp so it's probably important to get some rhythm with us as opposed to get some game-time.

"So Paddy's done a super job, I think it would be good to have them both in camp and to square them off, and see how they're travelling.

"Johnny has proven he can come straight back into the side and hit the ground running. He's done that on other occasions. This window has allowed Paddy an opportunity to put his hand up and say, 'That shouldn't be an automatic choice."

Joey Carbery's return to action for Leinster yesterday will further boost Schmidt's options, but he may be kept with the province this week to get another game under his belt.

The head coach was in better form than he had been in the build-up to Saturday's win, but he wasn't about to get carried away by a facile win over a poor Italy team.

During his press conference, Schmidt was asked for a word on Craig Gilroy who had marked his return to the Six Nations after a four-year hiatus with a hat-trick in 26 minutes. If the Ulster winger thought he was in the good books, he might have to reassess.

"I thought it was a mixed bag for Craig," he said.

"There was a couple of defensive things, positionally, that I think he'll learn from.

"He is quick, his ability to change direction is very, very good and he took a nice high ball at one stage. He ticked most of his boxes really well. The reason we chose him is because we were going to maybe give a few different guys chances over these first two weeks, we committed to that.

"We probably made a few less changes than we originally thought, partly because of injuries to guys like Peter O'Mahony, Johnny Sexton and Andrew Trimble, that we though would be available by now.

"The great thing is that they will definitely be available for our next game and hopefully there will be a few headaches now in terms of selection."

Irish Independent

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