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Dublin: 12 °C Wednesday 16 October, 2019
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Sexton back running as Ireland set off for Portugal training camp

The Leinster out-half has been absent for the past fortnight with a knee injury.

IRELAND OUT-HALF Johnny Sexton will step up his training intensity in Portugal this week as Joe Schmidt’s squad begin preparations for their Six Nations opener against England in earnest.

Schmidt won’t bring the entire 38-man squad he named last week to the Quinta do Lago resort in the Algarve, with some players remaining at home in order to get game time with their provinces in the Pro14 this weekend.

Jonathan Sexton celebrates winning Sexton is expected to be fit to face England. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Sexton, however, will be among the travelling party who will visit Portugal until Friday and will continue his recovery from a knee tendon injury that forced him to miss Leinster’s Heineken Champions Cup wins over Toulouse and Wasps in the past fortnight.

“Johnny is back running, so he seems to be going well,” said Leinster boss Leo Cullen yesterday after his team had secured a home quarter-final against Ulster with a bonus-point win over Wasps in Coventry.

“He got through a couple of sessions during the last week. He’s not a million miles off now and he’ll go to Portugal.”

It is expected that Sexton will be fit for the 2 February clash with England, who have injury concerns around their captain, Owen Farrell, who underwent surgery on his thumb on Saturday.

While Tadhg Beirne’s knee is now the main concern for Ireland, Schmidt will have been encouraged to see Ulster’s Iain Henderson and John Cooney making strong returns from injury over the weekend and there was another positive in Peter O’Mahony being fit to start for Munster in their win over Exeter.

Devin Toner was back from an ankle issue for Leinster, while Robbie Henshaw and Sean O’Brien both returned from lengthy spells on the sidelines to impress in the win over Wasps.

“I thought they were strong and physical,” said Cullen of Henshaw and O’Brien.

“Robbie gives us great go-forward in the middle of the field, Seanie gives us a great voice and the two of them give us great leadership.”

Cullen said that of the 16 Leinster players named in Schmidt’s squad for the opening two rounds of the Six Nations, “the majority will go out [to Portugal] but there might be one or two who will stay and play.”

Jack Conan before the game Jack Conan was forced to withdraw from Leinster's win. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Jack Conan – named in Schmidt’s squad – is a doubt after pulling out of Leinster’s clash with Wasps yesterday, allowing O’Brien to take a place in the starting team.

“Jack took that bang to his neck/shoulder in the game last week,” explained Cullen. “He actually trained during the week but it hadn’t fully settled.

“He was here today and I thought he would be ok but it hasn’t turned around as quickly as we would have liked so that’s why he was pulled this morning.”

Dan Leavy, who was left out of the Ireland squad, remains on the comeback trail as he takes time to recover from a calf issue. It’s doubtful whether he will be fit for Leinster’s Pro14 clash with Scarlets on Friday evening at the RDS.

“He has been a little bit slower with his calf,” said Cullen. “It’s one of those ones where you expected it to turn around quite quickly but it is just lingering a little bit.

“I’m not sure how he went over the course of the weekend so the game on Friday may be a little bit too soon but we will assess him tomorrow when we get back and train.”

Another man who was absent from the Ireland squad and could be missing for Leinster against Scarlets is out-half Ross Byrne.

“He took a bang to the head so it was just a straight removal for him which means he will be unlikely to be available next week,” said Cullen. “I’ll need to check on that but I would imagine he will be unavailable.”

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Murray Kinsella

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