Schmidt confident Sexton and O’Brien will be fit for Six Nations opener

Murray Kinsella reports from London

IRELAND HEAD COACH Joe Schmidt says out-half Johnny Sexton is on track to be fit for his side’s Six Nations opener against Scotland on Saturday 4 February.

The Leinster man was replaced in the first half of last weekend’s Champions Cup clash with Castres due to tightness in his calf.

Johnny Sexton celebrates Ireland’s win over New Zealand last November. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Having only recently returned from a lengthy spell out to remedy a hamstring issue he suffered during the November Tests, the latest setback for Sexton had sparked fears that he would miss the start of the Six Nations.

However, speaking at today’s Six Nations launch at the Hurlingham Club in London, Schmidt confirmed that he is confident Sexton will have fully recovered in time for the visit to Murrayfield.

“Johnny took a bruised calf in to the game against Castres and it just tightened up,” said Schmidt. “There’s not a lot of damage there, nothing’s showing up that’s overly significant.

“Johnny’s already starting back doing a little bit. We’d be confident he’ll be able to train next week and therefore be fully available to face Scotland.”

Schmidt also confirmed that openside Sean O’Brien is on schedule to play in Murrayfield, despite being sidelined recently with a calf injury.

“He’s slightly further ahead than Johnny,” said Schmidt. “We’re confident he may train before the end of the week fully, but he should train fully next week.”

Ulsterman Paddy Jackson is set to provide back-up to Sexton at out-half again during this Six Nations, but the uncapped Rory Scannell will offer another element of depth at out-half.

The Munster man was selected in the Ireland squad primarily as a centre, but Schmidt says the 23-year-old will also cover out-half.

“The first time I saw Rory play was at 10 for Dolphin against Belvedere,” said Schmidt. “He had a fantastic game at 10. There’s a big difference between that and Murrayfield, but he would be the guy who could cover there.”

Ian Madigan missed out on Ireland’s Six Nations squad for the opening two rounds, but Schmidt has been in keeping in contact with the Bordeaux playmaker and feels he could comfortably adapt back into the Ireland environment if needed.

Madigan will play in the Top 14 this weekend against Clermont, meaning he also would have been limited in his involvement with Ireland.

“With Ian, he could only have done those two first days with us,” said Schmidt. “You only get that three-day opportunity with the window, so it complicates that.

“Ian had an injury earlier in the season, so he hasn’t had a lot of rugby really. I’ve kept in touch with Ian. He would slot back in pretty seamlessly for us, so that’s still something potentially that we could look at.”

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