Sexton making progress but Schmidt unwilling to take risks on Trimble and Ryan

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.

“He had a niggling medial ligament so he didn’t train last week,” Schmidt said of the Munster man.

Ryan is also out of this weekend’s game. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

“Tuesday was the first time he trained. He’s been super for us in recent times but it really is a tight turnaround and we just had uncertainty around Donnacha.

“We wanted to see how he finished up after training on Tuesday and he came through really well, trained well today as well but we wanted more certainty than that and at the same time Iain here as done a super job for us in the past and Dev has also given us sterling service.”

Henderson’s Ulster team mate Andrew Trimble was another player Schmidt was unwilling to risk with the winger having emerged as a doubt earlier in the week. Keith Earls and Simon Zebo have been named alongside Rob Kearney in the back three.

There was bad news for Peter O’Mahony as he now looks set to miss the opening two weekends of the Six Nations with a hamstring injury.

“We’ll progress him a bit slower which will probably mean the turnaround for Italy would be too tight.

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“Andrew Trimble we would be pretty confident. Again it’s more of a niggle not anything serious but it would be a fine line this weekend and again we don’t want someone going out and coming off in the first 15/20 minutes.”

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