Thursday 22 March 2018

More bad news for Ireland - Sexton Rome return unlikely as Schmidt's men begin their catch-up mission

Sexton: Likely to miss Italy clash Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Joe Schmidt is not ruling Johnny Sexton out of Saturday's game against Italy but it appears more likely that the Leinster out-half will make his return to action against France in just under three weeks' time.

The coach said he would not be making sweeping changes to his team despite their sluggish start to the Six Nations campaign.

He played down the injury that saw Tadhg Furlong receive treatment before coming off and reckoned he would have a clean bill of health from those involved at Murrayfield.

Donnacha Ryan will surely come into contention after recovering from his medial knee ligament problem, while Finlay Bealham and Andrew Trimble are also on the recovery trail.

Ireland manager Paul Dean will deliver an injury update today, with Sexton and Peter O'Mahony top of the agenda after they missed Saturday's loss to Scotland with calf and hamstring issues.

"We will look at the footage and make some decisions beyond that," Schmidt said on selection calls.

"But I don't think there is going to be too many knee-jerk reactions. These players have worked really hard to get to the position of being selected in the first place and so you don't suddenly turn around and throw someone else into the mire.

"They feel that we are in this position and I am pretty sure that they will be pretty keen to fight their way out of this position.

"Certainly Donnacha Ryan should be right. I am not sure about Johnny or Pete so I will have a look at that on Monday or Tuesday and we will have a bit of a clearer picture hopefully.

"We're going to wait and see. Johnny wasn't that far away so he could come into the picture, but the more time that Paddy (Jackson) gets running the team, and the Six Nations is a little bit different to what he's done in the past in South Africa.

"It was tough for Paddy today because when you're not winning collisions and your ball is very slow, it's hard to get things moving and running. The reverse was true for Finn Russell, who I thought looked super in the first-half and not so good in the second-half.

"The landscape had changed."

Schmidt accepted that the tournament now represents a hugely difficult challenge for his team as they go to Rome with one bonus point to their name after a desperately disappointing start.

"It will be tough again next week and we can't afford to chase anything other than the win, first and foremost, because of the position we have put ourselves in," Schmidt said.

"So that immediately makes it a little more complicated.

"If we manage to go through the rest of the championship and win those games, I will still take a fierce bit of pride in this team to bounce back from today and that is the challenge that is there for them.

"The one thing I will say in favour of these players is that they tend to rise to challenges. And they have demonstrated that a few times in recent history.

"The Championship now looks like a very tough Championship to win. But we know we're not out of it. We did pick up that bonus point.

"I think we've just got to try to go to Italy now and make sure we've got five or six points out of these first two games, and try to really get some momentum into the back half of the Championship."

Irish Independent

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