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No concern over Sexton's hamstring but Ian Keatley travels with Ireland

Joe Schmidt also explained why Ian Madigan was not released back to Leinster last weekend.

JOE SCHMIDT SAYS Ireland have no concerns beyond the ordinary over Johnny Sexton’s hamstring, although he admitted that Munster’s Ian Keatley was likely to travel with the squad to Wales for Saturday’s Six Nations clash in Cardiff.

Ian Keatley Keatley was in good spirits in the rain at Carton House today. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Sexton has fully recovered from the hamstring strain that forced him off the pitch in the second half of the recent win over England in Dublin, with Schmidt this afternoon indicating that the out-half has had no unexpected issues in the build-up to this weekend.

“No, he trained really well today, kicked well yesterday and trained well on Tuesday,” said Schmidt at Carton House. “So he’s had a very good run into the game and he’s had no problems right through that.

I guess you worry about all the players, about some that are returning from injury and if they get a knock and they get compromised, that is unfortunately something you can’t calculate for, but you can anticipate to a degree and try to make sure you’ve got the cover prepared.”

Asked whether Ireland would bring Keatley [who started the win over Italy last month] to Wales as that covering option, Schmidt hinted that the Munster playmaker would be on the flight to Cardiff.

The Ireland head coach did stress that bringing Keatley to Wales was not just due to any lingering doubt over Sexton, but more importantly to keep Keatley involved in the set-up even when he is not part of the match day 23.

Jonathan Sexton Schmidt has total confidence in Sexton's hamstring holding up. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“Again, we’re going to make the decision straight after this based on how Johnny feels. I think that because it’s a bye week for the provinces, we might take him anyway because he did a great job in Italy for us.

“He’s a guy that we want to keep reasonably close to the squad because we want to have depth, particularly in those pivotal positions of nine and 10. It means we’ve had an extra scrum-half here for the week as well and unfortunately we probably would have had Kieran Marmion as well but he’s got an AC problem at the moment.

It’s the same at hooker, we’ve had Richardt Strauss with us this week as well. So not all those guys will travel obviously, but Ian might because it’s good for him to see the other guys operating with the team and mapping the team around the pitch.”

It’s unlikely that Keatley’s services will be called upon at the Millenium Stadium aside from providing support to the starting team and replacements, but a man who is almost certain to have some part to play is Ian Madigan.

Schmidt explained his decision not to release the versatile Leinster man back to his province for last weekend’s Pro12 clash with the Scarlets, preferring that Madigan remained with Ireland last week to become even more familiar with their structures.

Ian Madigan Madigan will play back-up to Sexton on Saturday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Ian Madigan’s game time is actually really high,” explained Schmidt.

“He’s probably in the top dozen for games. The one thing he hasn’t had is game time at 10, but we actually needed a 10 with us, so the real advantage for Ian is that he’s had stacks of game time and then he’s trained a lot at 10 for us.

“He trained in Belfast at the open day at 10, he trained on Monday at 10 and then handed over to Johnny. So he’s had a really good run into the game, because that’s the biggest disadvantage for Ian – that he hasn’t had game time at 10.

“To send him back and have him play 12 potentially [for Leinster], I think there’s more profit in him getting comfortable in one of the positions that he’s covering that has a real importance for us.”

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Murray Kinsella

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