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Sexton 'hopeful' of winning fitness battle while Farrell offers positive update on Stockdale

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton says he is on course to feature in Ireland’s Six Nations opener against Wales.

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton is 'hopeful' of being fit to face Wales next week.
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton is 'hopeful' of being fit to face Wales next week.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THERE WAS POSITIVE news from the Ireland camp this morning as Johnny Sexton said his latest injury setback is ‘nothing major’ ahead of the Six Nations opener against Wales (Feb 7), while Andy Farrell confirmed that he hopes to welcome Jacob Stockdale back into his squad following the opening two rounds of fixtures.

Ireland captain Sexton emerged as an injury concern after picking up a muscle strain in Leinster’s Pro14 defeat of Munster last weekend, but speaking at this morning’s virtual Six Nations launch, the out-half said the issue isn’t one that should rule him out of contention for the trip to Cardiff on Sunday week. 

“Anytime that you get a little niggle like that it’s very frustrating, because I did a lot of work over the last four or five weeks, trained hard to make sure that didn’t happen, and it did (happen) at the time that I didn’t want it to happen, which is somewhat typical,” Sexton said.

“But listen, it’s not major. Hopefully I’ll be back training by the end of the week, and hopefully I’ll be fit for the Wales game.

“It can be frustrating when you pick up these things, but it is a tough game to get through now. I was in a good place before the Munster game and picked up a niggle, so I won’t let it get me down too much. Just get back on the horse, get back training hard this week and hopefully be firing next week.”

Farrell will be desperately hoping Sexton comes through the next week of training without any setbacks, with Billy Burns and Ross Byrne, the other two out-halves in Farrell’s squad, both light on Test game experience. 

Sexton isn’t the only injury concern in Farrell’s squad, with a number of players coming into the Six Nations on the back of lengthy lay-offs. 

There was at least good news on Jacob Stockdale, who missed out on the original 36-man squad with a knee issue. While he won’t feature in the opening two games against Wales and France, Farrell is optimistic the Ulster back will still play a part in the this year’s championship.

“He is progressing well,” Farrell explained. “It’s nothing too serious, but he has a bit of bone bruising I understand in his knee, and bone bruising tends to take a bit of time to settle down. 

“We understand that he probably won’t be available for the first two games and hopefully, fingers crossed, everything going well he’s back up and running and available midway through the competition.” 

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Farrell also provided positive updates on Leinster duo Tadhg Furlong and James Lowe. Furlong hasn’t played any rugby in almost a year due to a mix of calf and back issues, alongside the suspension of the latter half of the 2019/20 season.

The tighthead should get a chance to lace up his boots in Leinster’s Pro14 trip to Scarlets on Saturday in a bid to prove his fitness.

“I suppose there’s a natural progression that needs to happen for Tadhg himself to be physically and mentally right and to earn the right to be available for Wales, so we’ll see how this week plays out,” Farrell said. 

“Speaking to Tadhg yesterday, he had a great day, he was feeling good, fit and strong, meeting all the requirements, hitting great markers etc.

“He feels in good spirits so hopefully we get him through to the end of the week and get some minutes under his belt for Leinster, if selected, and then the plan would be all going well that he’ll come back into camp on Sunday with us and gets a full week’s lead-in and we can assess where he’s at.”

Leinster wing Lowe hasn’t featured since the Autumn Nations Cup, but the 28-year-old is said to be making good progress on a groin injury.

“Like Tadhg, he’s progressing really well, all the guys that have been selected are at a stage where they’re progressing and like everyone, like Johnny here, there are a few protocols that a few lads have to get through this week.

“Hopefully come the weekend the news is going to be good on that front and we’ll have a straightforward week into Wales.”

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