Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt named a strong and familiar 23-man squad for the Six Nations curtain raiser against Scotland on Saturday.
Having already been confirmed earlier this week, the most notable absence from the side is Leinster out-half Jonathan Sexton.
Still suffering the lingering effects from a bruised calf muscle sustain a fortnight ago in the Champions Cup against Castres, the 31-year-old was ruled out on Tuesday.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) January 31, 2017
This announcement followed the assertion from team manager Paul Dean that the expectation was Sexton was on the verge of a return.
Now, at Thursday’s press conference, following the announcement of the Ireland side to face Scotland, Joe Schmidt has conceded that the pivotal, but oft-injured Sexton, only has an ‘outside chance’ of being fit in time for the Italy game on February 11.
Reported by the Irish Independent, Schmidt spoke of the Leinster star’s frustrations.
“Jonathan Sexton has an outside chance for Italy. There’s no greater frustration than for Johnny, he was incredibly motivated for this championship.
“He was frustrated to get the injury in Castres and that has hungover for us. He has only played 82 minutes in the last eight test matches and it is frustrating.
“In the three championships I have played, he has dominated the number ten position and we hope he can still do that.
“Paddy Jackson played all three tests in South Africa and started against Australia.
“There aren’t many players who don’t go through injury and a little bit of bad luck. The Castres injury was a minor one and then it was an extension of that.”
While Paddy Jackson is a battle-hardened and top class replacement for the crocked Sexton, it is well accepted among fans that Ireland are all the stronger with the Leinster man dictating play from the half-back line.
Fans will now be hoping he can recover in time for the Italy clash and lead Ireland on to a third title in four seasons.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
On this week’s edition of the Oval Office, we discuss Ireland’s selection policy for overseas players, the England captaincy and more…