Jonathan Sexton will be fit to face France this weekend but has been warned that he has “no divine right to selection” as Joe Schmidt ponders whether to continue with Paddy Jackson at out-half.
Ireland trained fully with Rob Kearney, Andrew Trimble and Conor Murray shrugging off recent difficulties but assistant coach Richie Murphy insists that there will still be a selection poser despite the return of Sexton to full fitness.
“Paddy Jackson has been brilliant,” said Murphy.
“He has filled the gap really well since last summer, he is improving all the time. He is only 24, Johnny was only getting capped for the first time at that stage.
“He has worked well with Johnny off the pitch and it is getting to the stage where we have other options.
“Johnny has no divine right to get picked, I’m not trying to create any confusion, the decision will be made on how they perform in training over the next few days.
“Johnny has been around longer, he has seen it all and he interacts with the group slightly different because he is a senior member but that gap is closing. The players have confidence in Paddy now.
“His place-kicking has been massive, 25 from 26 since November. He is in a good place, that part of the game has really improved, taking over from Ruan Pienaar at Ulster in those duties has made him more comfortable in that role.”
Trimble is in line for a potential recall too while Murray seems certain to retain his place after last week’s groin issues.
“It’s amazing for us to have a fully fit squad, a big pool of players to pick for what should be a massive game.
“Johnny is a big member of the squad, he is a big presence, his leadership is important and it is really good to have him back.”
Murphy denied that Sexton’s confidence may have been affected by his consistent injury worries as Schmidt decides whether to pitch him back into the fray after an injury-plagued 12 months.
“He has been out for long periods before and come back in and been really good so it is not new for him,” says Murphy.
“We feel he will be ready to go so when we come to selection we will decide. It’s a selection issue now, there is no doubt about his availability.
“I don’t think his confidence in terms of durability is affected, I haven’t seen that. He is in good form and he will be ready to go if selected.”
Murphy reiterated the collective opinion of his bosses that the IRFU would prepare all their players to remain in Ireland as reports suggest Ian Madigan may be seeking an exit from his unhappy spell at Bordeaux.
“It’s not really for me to say, he is contracted in France for another year so who knows if he will get released. We want all our players at home and Ian is no different.”
Most Munster fans have been scanning each recent Ireland squad announcement looking for Darren Sweetnam's name, but although the young wing has yet to earn an international cap, it feels like his time in green will come sooner rather than later.