Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton has until Friday to prove his fitness to face New Zealand, provided he emerges in reasonable shape from today’s medical assessment on an injured hamstring.
The Irish out-half was forced off at half-time in Saturday’s 32-15 defeat to Australia, his first game for Ireland since suffering a similar injury against England in February, and must be considered a serious doubt for next Sunday’s final Guinness Series Test at the Aviva Stadium against the all-conquering All Blacks.
Head coach Joe Schmidt described the prospect of facing his compatriots as “daunting” in the wake of a demoralising loss to the Wallabies and will be desperate to have his first-choice playmaker on the field, given the fall-off from the rest of the team once he had departed on Saturday.
If the Racing Metro star, who pulled up lame in his 13th game of the season so far, fails to convince the medics he will be ready to go next weekend when the squad reconvenes at Carton House this evening, Schmidt will have to throw in either of the inexperienced back-ups in Paddy Jackson and Ian Madigan against the world’s best team, which stretched its unbeaten record for 2013 to 13 games with their 30-22 victory over England at Twickenham on Saturday.
“On Monday we’ll find out the degree of his injury and then that will either make a decision easy for us because it looks good or it doesn’t. If it is halfway in-between, it is my expectation he would have to train on Friday,” Schmidt said before alluding again to Sexton’s club workload.
“He hasn’t really spent that much time with us, training. He had a little hip flexor issue plus we left him to rest against Samoa just because of the attritional game time he had already accumulated. I think the wear and tear of that sort of game time, it has consequences and unfortunately those consequences have fallen in our lap.”
With All Blacks fly-half Dan Carter also a doubt having not lasted the first half against England due to an Achilles problem, and back-up Aaron Cruden poised to take over for their final game of the year, Schmidt compared the relative abilities of Ireland and New Zealand to cope with the losses of their respective attacking linchpins.
“I guess one of the things is the number of Tests (New Zealand) play. Aaron Cruden has accumulated 30-plus Tests, Paddy Jackson and Ian Madigan have a handful each,” Schmidt said.
“That’s a fair big gap in terms of learning and experience and opportunity to make errors and learn from them. They will be surrounded by experienced players and it is important for us to get the right players around whoever goes in 10 if it’s not Johnny.”
Carter is set for a scan on his Achilles having limped out of his 100th Test on Saturday while New Zealand prop Tony Woodcock is also a doubt having pulled a hamstring at Twickenham.
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