Ireland not rushing Sexton back
INJURY UPDATE: Ireland and Leinster playmaker Johnny Sexton is highly unlikely to feature in Round two of the Six Nations against Italy in Rome this weekend.
Sexton has been nursing a calf injury since as he helped Leinster clinch their ticket into the quarterfinals of the Champions Cup with a 24-24 draw in Castres on Friday, January 20. The 31-year-old limped out of the action midway through the first half at Stade Pierre Antoine and hasn't played since.
Joe Schmidt started with Ulster Rugby flyhalf Paddy Jackson in the 27-22 defeat to Scotland at BT Murrayfield last weekend and isn't likely to take a risk on the fitness of his back line catalyst for the trip to Rome.
Ireland picked up a losing bonus point in Edinburgh and will be looking for much more against Sergio Parisse's Italian side. They pushed Wales for an hour in Rome last weekend before going down 33-7.
As well as Jackson, who scored 12 points last weekend including one of his side's three tries, Schmidt has Munster's Ian Keatley to fall back on to fill the No 10 jersey in Sexton's absence. The plan is to have the Leinster man back for the final three fixtures against England, Wales and France.
"Johnny is continuing his rehab and his progress will be monitored across the week, but he's back running which is very positive. As you well know, Johnny would play today if we'd let him, but we have to monitor his recovery and make sure he's fine," said Ireland team manager Paul Dean.
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen will be hoping Sexton doesn't get rushed back too soon because he can ill-afford to have him unavailable for the Champions Cup quarter-final clash with Wasps at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, April 1. He already has one international outside half, Joey Carberry, out of action.
The 21-year-old Carberry missed the last three rounds of the Champions Cup pool stages after picking up an ankle injury in the big win at Northampton Saints that forced him to undergo surgery. He was due to be out of action for eight weeks after having surgery in mid-December.
Another Irish Champions Cup quarterfinalist who missed the opening game of the Six Nations is Munster Rugby skipper Peter O'Mahony. He is undergoing rehabilitation from a hamstring injury
"It's hard to tell," Dean admitted when asked about whether either Sexton or O'Mahony would play against Italy, "but we have to manage them and make sure. They'd both play tomorrow, they'd play today, but we just have to make sure that they are ready."
Leinster tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong is expected to overcome his "bruised shoulder" in time to lay in Rome, while Munster lock Donnacha Ryan and Connacht prop Finlay Bealham are both back in full training. Wings Andrew Trimble (Ulster) and Andrew Conway (Munster) are both expected to overcome their groin injuries before the weekend.