Johnny Sexton 'making good progress' and is on course to face England in Six Nations opener
Johnny Sexton is "making good progress" on his knee tendon injury, according to Joe Schmidt who is hoping the World Rugby Player of the Year will be fit for Ireland's Six Nations opener against England on February 2.
Sexton has not played since going off injured midway through the second half of Leinster's loss to Munster on December 29, but was yesterday named as vice-captain in Schmidt's 38-man squad for the first two rounds of the tournament.
Fellow vice-captain Peter O'Mahony also makes the cut despite his rib issue, while Kieran Marmion, Robbie Henshaw and Seán O'Brien are included having been out since November and Iain Henderson is called up despite his thumb operation in December.
Uncapped Connacht trio Caolin Blade, Jack Carty and Tom Farrell are all named in the squad for the first time, while there is a return for their team-mate Ultan Dillane and Munster pair Conor Murray and Chris Farrell.
Tight Carty's inclusion sees Ross Byrne drop out of the squad, while Dan Leavy is also absent with Schmidt hinting he will have a role to play once he gets over his calf injury.
As he ran through a series of "tight calls", Schmidt named 26 players who missed out on selection in the press release that accompanied the announcement.
The IRFU confirmed that the squad will travel to Portugal for a pre-tournament warm-weather camp on Monday before returning to Ireland on Friday.
Hooker Rob Herring, prop Finlay Bealham, second-row Quinn Roux, out-half Byrne, centres Sammy Arnold and Stuart McCloskey and winger Darren Sweetnam all miss out after winning caps in November, while Luke McGrath and Leavy are injured.
Ireland open their campaign against England at the Aviva Stadium in just over two weeks' time before travelling to Edinburgh to take on World Cup pool rivals Scotland who have named seven uncapped players in their squad.