Joe Schmidt will again face a week of anxiety as fly-half Johnny Sexton returns to Paris while the rest of his Ireland squad convenes in Belfast to prepare for the rest of the Six Nations campaign.
With the Six Nations going into an off-week between rounds three and four of the championship, Sexton must report back to his club, Racing Metro, who play Castres on Saturday at home in the French Top 14.
Having featured for Racing in between Ireland’s games against Wales and England, the Irish playmaker could be asked to play for the sixth week in a row this weekend having faced Toulouse, Scotland, Wales, Bayonne and the English in successive weeks. With two games still to play against Italy and France, which potentially will be a championship decider, Schmidt is clearly concerned about the workload being asked of his out-half while he suggested Sexton’s performance in the defeat at Twickenham was affected by his lack of preparation time in the Irish camp over the last fortnight.
“A couple of things didn’t quite come off for Johnny with the boot but again we’re looking for quite fine margins on those couple of kick-offs,” Schmidt said.
“Unfortunately he hasn’t had a lot of chance to practice them too much in the conditions that we’ve trained in recently. Carton House have done a great job trying to keep the fields dry. In Clonmel he obviously wasn’t there to practice them anyway. He had to go back and play against Bayonne.
“Unfortunately, trying to build things now, with Johnny going back to potentially play against Castres it’s just a little bit difficult to probably get as much accuracy as we’re looking forward.
“We try to spread the workload through that full two weeks because if you’ve got two weeks you may as well try to maximise your use of them.”
Ireland captain Paul O’Connell had a different view on the enforced downtime between games following an agonising 13-10 defeat to England at the weekend, but admitted there was plenty of work to be done ahead of the clash with Italy on March 8 at Aviva Stadium.
“Unfortunately it’s a two-week turn around to the next game. After a game like that you just want to go out and play the following week and erase it from your mind,” O’Connell said.
“We’re at camp next week in Belfast and we’ll review the game and plan for it.”
The Munster lock said winning the championship would still represent a major achievement even if a Triple Crown and Grand Slam bid had been lost in the defeat to England.
“It would be a massive deal for this team but when you lose a game winning a championship is the last thing you think about.
“It will probably be a tough review during the week to try to put that game to bed and move forward.
“Italy were only narrowly beaten by Scotland by a late drop goal. We are just going to have to focus 100% on getting a result in that game and whatever happens after that happens.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved