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Schmidt expects Sexton to be fully fit for Six Nations opener against England

The experienced out-half has been sidelined with a knee tendon injury in recent weeks.

Murray Kinsella reports from London

IRELAND HEAD COACH Joe Schmidt says he’s confident out-half Johnny Sexton will be fully fit for his side’s Six Nations opener against England in Dublin on 2 February.

Sexton has missed Leinster’s last two games due to a knee tendon injury but travelled with Ireland to their pre-Six Nations camp in Portugal on Monday.

Jonathan Sexton celebrates after the game Sexton is back in training with Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Schmidt, speaking on a flying visit to London for the Six Nations launch, said the 33-year-old playmaker is close to a return to full training and will be good to go against England.

“Johnny trained yesterday,” said Schmidt. “It was pretty quiet, to be honest. There were some fairly attritional European games at the weekend – I thought Munster/Exeter was one of the more attritional games I’ve seen in recent times.

“Obviously, Leinster played on the Sunday quite late in the afternoon so by the time they had finished, these last two days have been pretty quiet.

“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’s very confident, the medical staff are confident, and so are we.”

Ireland have had injury setbacks after that attritional European weekend, with Munster’s Tadhg Beirne and Ulster’s Iain Henderson now sidelined.

Beirne will miss the opening two rounds of the Six Nations with a knee injury.

Henderson, who picked up a finger injury in Ulster’s win over Leicester, is in danger of missing out until the closing two rounds, if he features at all.

“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.

Iain Henderson Iain Henderson will miss at least the first three rounds of the championship. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

“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’s been so robust, so resilient, he’s 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.”

Having called Quinn Roux into his squad, Schmidt now has four locks training in Portugal this week in the shape of James Ryan, Devin Toner, Ultan Dillane and Roux.

In terms of his back row options, Schmidt is hopeful of bringing Leinster’s Dan Leavy, currently on the comeback trail from a calf injury, into the Ireland squad soon, possibly even for the second round clash with Scotland on 9 February.

“Dan could be back potentially the second week, he could come back in,” said Schmidt. “He’d inject a little bit of energy and intensity into that Scotland week, potentially.

“It depends how his week goes this week. If he makes the [Leinster v] Scarlets game or doesn’t, that will probably give some sort of bearing on whether he’ll come back in for the Scotland week, or whether we’ll leave him to get him in for the Italian week.

“I guess the other side of the coin is that other players are there and are going to try to take their chances. Dan came off the bench against France in the first game last year for Josh van der Flier, who picked up an injury, and played really well.

“I think that’s a nice competition to have if other guys can step up in his absence.”

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Murray Kinsella

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