Ahead of their Guinness Six Nations opener against England next month, Ireland Coach Joe Schmidt has provided an injury update on three of his star players.
Fly-half Johnny Sexton looks likely to feature against England in Dublin on February 2nd, which will come as a huge relief to the defending champions.
The 2018 World Rugby Player of the Year has not featured for the last month, after picking up a knee injury in a league game against Munster, but has been named in the original squad of 38.
“Johnny trained yesterday [Tuesday],” Schmidt told a media scrum at the tournament launch, via Rugby 365.
“Johnny will train fully on Thursday, when we’ll try to ramp the training up a little bit, and our expectation is that he will get through that without any problems at all.
“He is very confident, the medical staff are confident, and so are we.”
It does not look good for lock Iain Henderson though, who is set to miss the whole tournament after sustaining a finger injury in Ulster’s win over Leicester. The same applies to Tadhg Beirne, who will almost certainly miss the first two matches.
“Iain could potentially make the last two weekends, maybe the last weekend. That would be quite tight,” said Schmidt.
“Tadhg Beirne, on the other hand, should possibly make the third weekend and definitely the last two weekends.
“I feel bad for both of them. Iain Henderson, six weeks out, comes back with a man-of-the-match performance and back out again. A really unlucky injury.
“Same with Tadhg Beirne, he has been so robust, so resilient, he has played a lot of match minutes in the last three years. He was going really well in that game, got a couple of fantastic turnovers and then to pick up an injury is really disappointing for him.”
The importance of Sexton
There is no denying just how vital Sexton is to Ireland’s hopes of retaining the Six Nations crown, but question marks will remain over how match-fit he is after missing the last four weeks. Schmidt is adamant that he will have Sexton available but what exactly does he bring to the side?
During the 2018 Six Nations, Sexton scored a total of 44 points to help Ireland on their way to a third ever Grand Slam and was nothing short of influential in every game. Fearless, brave and an all-round leader, Sexton is Schmidt’s on-field lieutenant who is one of rugby union’s greatest ever no. 10’s.
Last year alone, Sexton helped Ireland to their first series win over Australia for 39 years and was part of the side who was victorious over New Zealand for the first ever time on home soil. At club level, Sexton helped Leinster to win the Guinness Pro14 and European Champions Cup titles which further demonstrates just how good a player he is.
From England’s perspective, they will need to identify a game plan to thwart Sexton’s presence in the hope of snatching a victory, assuming he plays in the Six Nations opener.
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