Johnny Sexton must prove he is ready for France showdown

It will not be the return of Johnny Sexton to full training with Ireland today that will determine whether the fly-half faces France at the Aviva Stadium this Saturday but the way he comes through the sessions at Carton House.

Without any game time since January 20, when he suffered a calf strain playing for Leinster against Castres, and with only 130 minutes of action under his belt since limping off with a hamstring injury in the 18th minute of Ireland’s defeat at home to New Zealand on November 19, Sexton must today prove he is ready to hit the ground running this weekend when the Six Nations campaign resumes in Dublin.

Despite his importance to Joe Schmidt, the recent injury profile of Sexton and the increasing confidence in his deputy Paddy Jackson to competently fill the main man’s boots means the Ireland boss has learned to live without his first-choice playmaker and will not risk him against France if there is doubt regarding his preparedness.

Yet yesterday’s medical update from Ireland team manager Paul Dean was all positive regarding the 31-year-old and the rest of Schmidt’s 34-man squad, including full-back Rob Kearney, who injured a bicep in the bonus-point win over Italy last time out in Rome nine days ago, and flanker Peter O’Mahony, who has overcome a hamstring strain which caused him to miss the opening two rounds of the championship.

Both Sexton and Kearney had continued their rehabilitation last week but Dean said the fly-half was set to reintegrate himself into the squad yesterday ahead of today’s full session.

“He will train fully and hopefully when he comes through that, he’ll be fine for the weekend,” Dean said.

Asked whether a decision would be made on Sexton’s availability, Dean replied: “I think you’ll need to ask Joe that. He’ll be in a better position after the training to decide that.

“If you talk to Johnny and Rob they’ll both say that they’re 100% fit and ready to go, so we just need the medics to pass them and they need to prove to us that they are.”

There was also reassurance that scrum-half Conor Murray would be fit to face the French having sat out last Friday’s public training session in Monaghan due to tightness in an adductor muscle. The whole squad, Dean added, will train fully today.

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