'We are incredibly keen to support the provinces' - Joe Schmidt explains absence of Ian Madigan
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt is confident that Jonathan Sexton may be available for the away game with Italy on Saturday week - and has reiterated that he remains keen to support home-grown players in terms of back-up.
Munster’s Ian Keatley has been selected on the bench this week to back up starter Paddy Jackson, ahead of Ian Madigan, after the latter was unable to train with Ireland last week due to his current club role in France with Bordeaux.
“Jonathan Sexton has an outside chance for Italy,” said Schmidt. "There’s no greater frustration than for Johnny, he was incredibly motivated for this championship.
“He was frustrated to get the injury in Castres and that has hungover for us. He has only played 82 minutes in the last eight test matches and it is frustrating.
“In the three championships I have played, he has dominated the number ten position and we hope he can still do that.
“Paddy Jackson played all three tests in South Africa and started against Australia.
“There aren’t many players who don’t go through injury and a little bit of bad luck. The Castres injury was a minor one and then it was an extension of that.
“It’s about getting him to 100%, Rob Kearney (pictured) was the same last year, niggling injuries. Things ebb and flow a bit and hopefully they will ebb and flow better for him.
“With regards to Ian Keatley, his time at out-half is not dis-similar to Ian Madigan. Ian Madigan wasn’t with us last week and he had his own injury problems.
“We are incredibly keen to support the provinces.
“If we tell the players that we are picking from overseas, players may be more likely to go overseas. They have player management here and know they will be close to the queue in terms of selection.
“Guys like Ian and Marty Moore haven’t gone away. We know we can whistle Ian in, but he would have to go back after two games. You don’t get continuity and that is the frustration for us.
“Marty was ahead of Tadhg Furlong at Leinster before he left, John Ryan and Finlay Bealham have come through and taken their opportunity.
“This time last year nobody was talking about Joey Carbery and that wouldn’t have happened had Ian Madigan still ben there.
“You want every Irish player on the island and available, but it is fluctuating regarding the players who are overseas in terms of when they can be available to us and that is frustrating.”
Although Andrew Trimble (pictured) should return to challenge for a berth in round two against Italy, there was less promising news for Munster captain Peter O’Mahony.
“Peter O’Mahony is highly unlikely, it is a grade one or two hamstring strain and we will progress him slower as it may be damaged further.
“We are more confident on Andrew Trimble, he just has a niggle.
“We’d a short window of preparation and we picked the fittest team available through that training window.
“Donnacha Ryan had a niggling media ligament and he only trained for the first time on Tuesday. It is a tight turnaround and we just had uncertainty surrounding him.
“He came through Tuesday and today well but we needed certainty and Iain Henderson has done really well.”
Schmidt is hoping that his side can hit the ground running after last year’s stuttering start, when they failed to win in February to mark Ireland’s worst opening to a championship since 1998.
“We have quiet confidence this weekend that we will get a maximum effort and the players will express themselves. It is an unknown because Scotland want to do the same. I’d rather have a cake-walk but that won’t be the case. People will struggle to pick the outcome.”