JOE SCHMIDT IS hopeful of having Johnny Sexton available for Ireland’s trip to Rome next weekend but admits he won’t rush the out-half back until he is 100% fit.
Sexton will miss Ireland’s Six Nations opener against Scotland on Saturday after failing to recover from the calf injury he sustained during Leinster’s Champions Cup game in Castres a fortnight ago.
The Ireland head coach has once again had to plan without one of his key players after Sexton missed the tour of South Africa last summer as well as the November Tests against New Zealand and Australia.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference at Carton House this afternoon, Schmidt admitted Sexton’s injury problems are a source of frustration but is confident he’ll come out the other side.
“It’s no greater frustration than for Johnny himself,” Schmidt said.
“He’s probably played about 82 minutes for the national team in the last eight Test matches so for us it’s a real frustration and no different for him.
“In the three Six Nations I’ve been involved in, Johnny has dominated the number 10 position so we’re still hopeful he’ll come in and do that for us but at the same time Paddy [Jackson] has trained really well.
Sexton sustained the injury against Castres. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
“Paddy played all three Tests in South Africa so it’s not like he hasn’t had really good experience in recent times at a very high level.
“I don’t think there’s many players who don’t go through injury and a bit of bad luck. It was a very minor injury going into the Castres match for Johnny and it just triggered an extension of that injury so for us it’s just about getting him 100% fit before he goes out there.
“It’s a bit like Rob Kearney last year with a series of continuous injuries. He’s been really robust for us this yer. Things tend to ebb and flow a bit and hopefully they’ll flow a bit better in the back half of the championship.”
When asked whether the 31-year-old will come back into contention for the second assignment of the Championship against Conor O’Shea’s Italians, Schmidt said: “Realistically Johnny is an outside chance for Italy.”
A little earlier, Schmidt revealed his hand for the trip to Murrayfield with the Kiwi naming a largely as expected starting XV for the clash against Vern Cotter’s side.
The main talking point was the inclusion of Iain Henderson in the second row alongside Devin Toner but Schmidt’s hand was forced by an injury to Donnacha Ryan.