Joe Schmidt has declared Johnny Sexton fully fit to start Ireland’s RBS 6 Nations campaign after the fly-half’s latest concussion scare.
Sexton was withdrawn from Leinster’s 51-10 Champions Cup defeat to Wasps, but passed initial pitch-side Head Injury Assessment (HIA) and has since completed further tests to return to training.
Ireland head coach Schmidt lamented suggestions his frontline playmaker should consider quitting the sport to preserve his long-term health.
Schmidt branded those calls “a disappointment”, frustrated that observers outside the Ireland camp have questioned expert medical opinion.
“Johnny trained really well yesterday, he’s fully fit and ready to go, he’s passed his three,” said Schmidt.
“So that’s the protocol.
“It was this time last year that the problem really arose and he had the break.
“Since that time he hasn’t really had too many problems.
“So as far as we’re concerned and as far as Johnny’s concerned he’s very keen to be ready to go in 11 days’ time.
“He trained really well yesterday. I think he’s good to go.”
Outspoken columnist and former Ireland international George Hook has led calls for Sexton to consider quitting the sport over frequent head injuries.
Sexton was stood down for 12 weeks by French club Racing for suffering four concussions inside 12 months.
Despite Sexton’s latest head injury concern, Ireland and Leinster have insisted the 30-year-old did not suffer a concussion against Wasps, and is now free to play.
“All we can do is go on the medical opinion, and he had two of the best guys that are around, that made some decisions for him last year and have followed up since then,” said Schmidt.
“When they give him the all-clear we’ve got a lot of trust in them.
“I have a number of dealings with family with medical practitioners that we have huge trust in, and you know they are the experts.
“If there are people who question that, again it’s always a disappointment, but also a reality.
“Because no one’s going to have the same opinion necessarily, but what you try to do is get those that are best-qualified to make the decision, therefore not to put somebody at risk.”
Praising Leinster for withdrawing Sexton as a precaution in the weekend’s heavy defeat at Wasps, Schmidt said Ireland take head injuries extremely seriously.
“I’m always concerned,” said Schmidt, when asked about concussion and its symptoms.
“We treat head injuries with the respect they need and that’s why he didn’t go back onto the pitch on the weekend, and I certainly respect that decision.
“It wasn’t a game that was going to be significant in qualification and therefore they identified that some important games were coming up for Johnny.
“That’s fallen to our advantage so he should be fully fit to go.”
Schmidt also rubbished suggestions of a mass player drain of Irish stars seeking to play club rugby abroad, in the wake of Marty Moore agreeing to join Wasps in the summer and Ian Madigan heading to Bordeaux.
Keith Earls is closing in on a move to Saracens, while Simon Zebo has courted a host of offers from France, but despite those negotiations Schmidt remains relatively unfazed.
Schmidt did however accept that fly-half Madigan will make his chances of future Test selection tougher by trading Leinster for Bordeaux in the summer.
“There’s only Ian Madigan in the squad currently who has signed abroad,” said Schmidt, though prop Moore only misses out due to a hamstring injury.
“I’ve seen the word ’exodus’ used a number of times, I’ve read the book by Leon Uris along with another Leon Uris title.
“It defies the dictionary definition of ’exodus’.
“There’s always concern when we lose the opportunity to manage that player.
“We get the training volume from the provinces, we know their strength and conditioning programmes, their total training minutes.
“The only experience I’ve had with it is Johnny Sexton and he came into his first training camp after joining Racing having played 12 games in 11 weeks.
“Is that the best preparation to be fully fit to play an international?
“And that’s the risk for us.
“Ian and I had a long discussion about it (his move to Bordeaux).
“When I arrived at Leinster Ian was learning French, so there was an uneasy feeling at that stage.
“But that’s because he is one of the most professional preparers for whatever is coming next.
“I know he wants to play at 10, and I think he’ll go into a head-to-head duel with Lionel Beauxis and fair play to him if he gets the better of that.
“He won’t be out of our thoughts, but Paddy Jackson came off the bench in several of the Six Nations matches last year, and Ian Keatley started against Italy last year.
“So there is competition for Ian, and there’s always a risk in him going away.
“We can’t be any more transparent than that really.”