Johnny Sexton has been backed to start against England in next month’s Six Nations opener – despite not playing a game this year.
The 33-year-old injured his knee in Leinster’s Guinness PRO14 defeat to Munster on December 29, and has sat out the club’s last three games, including Heineken Champions Cup wins over Toulouse and Wasps.
But former Leinster out-half Felipe Contepomi says there’s no need to worry about whether the Dubliner can make his return in such a huge game.
“The ideal is to be playing and having time,” Contepomi said, “but when you speak about a guy like Johnny Sexton with so much experience and so many games under his belt, I think the crucial thing is to see how fit he is rather than game-time.
“We can talk about ideals; if you were speaking about a guy who is in the first year of his international career going into a game without playing rugby for a month — into that type of game, England v Ireland — it would be tough. But with Johnny, he knows.
He’s got a lot of experience, so it’s about his fitness. If his leg is fine. I don’t see that as a problem.
Sexton will continue his return to fitness with Ireland at their Portugal training camp this week, but Rob Kearney, Jack McGrath, Jack Conan, and Dan Leavy have all stayed in Dublin.
Kearney and McGrath will play against Scarlets in the Guinness Pro14 this Friday evening as they return from injury, while Leavy and Conan continue their rehab from calf and shoulder injuries, respectively.
Ross Byrne will not be involved this weekend, after taking a knock to the head against Wasps on Sunday, while Adam Byrne has travelled to Portugal in place of the injured Andrew Conway.
Quinn Roux, the Connacht lock, has replaced Tadgh Beirne, the Munster forward, in the Ireland squad after a knee injury ruled Beirne out of the opening two rounds of the Six Nations.