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Sexton and Murray set to be back from injury for Ireland's clash with Italy

Head coach Andy Farrell stressed the need for Ireland to make sure of a win in Rome.

Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton missed last weekend's defeat to France.
Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton missed last weekend's defeat to France.

Updated Feb 16th 2021, 8:00 AM

IRELAND CAPTAIN JOHNNY Sexton and scrum-half Conor Murray are set to return from injury to be available for the Six Nations clash with Italy in Rome in two weekends’ time.

The longstanding first-choice halfback pairing missed last weekend’s defeat to France in Dublin, with Sexton ruled out due to concussion and Murray absent after suffering a hamstring injury.

However, Ireland head coach Andy Farrell confirmed that he expects the influential pair to be fit before the Italy clash.

Asked if he needs to use that Italy game to build more depth in the halfback slots or whether Sexton and Murray will come straight back into the starting XV, Farrell underlined how Ireland need to focus on beating the Italians as they look to turn their Six Nations campaign around after defeats to Wales and France.

“Well, we want to win, you know, we want to win the next three games so we will pick the best side accordingly for each game,” said Farrell.

Jamison Gibson-Park started and finished the France game in Murray’s absence, with 21-year-old Munster man Craig Casey an unused replacement.

Ulster’s Billy Burns started at out-half last weekend but suffered a head injury just after half time and was replaced by Leinster’s Ross Byrne.

“I thought they did really well,” said Farrell when asked to assess the performances of the Irish halfbacks. “I thought their game management was great, especially in the first half, how they got the forwards into the game, keeping their patience, sticking to the plan.

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“I thought they were going great and then Ross coming on for Billy, he got himself straight into the game. He obviously kicked a lovely goal and got the backline moving as well at times.

“But I suppose if you were singling anyone out, I thought Jamison was outstanding for 80 minutes. He was well in control, he was calm, he had plenty of energy and he was pretty accurate. Our kicking game was much better.”

Ireland’s players are currently “in their home bubbles” on a brief break from Six Nations camp but will reconvene for training on Thursday and Friday this week, before a full week’s preparation ahead of the Italy game on Saturday 27 February.

Ireland also still have a visit to Scotland and a home tie against England to come in this championship and Farrell is clear about their aims.

“Three victories and that’s what we expect of ourselves,” said Farrell. “We’ll have to show our character now because obviously Italy are without a win and they are at home so we will need to take that game on full steam ahead.

“Then obviously, as we saw [on Saturday], going to Murrayfield is no easy task at all because they are playing particularly well at this moment in time.

“They were unlucky [against Wales] and the English here for the last game is another chance to get back to the Aviva and hopefully get the right result, what we expect of ourselves here.”

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Murray Kinsella

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