Johnny Sexton is to complete his HIA process on Monday, the IRFU have announced, seemingly paving the way for his return to the Ireland side for the second Test against the All Blacks. The news comes despite Ireland’s captain being forced off during Saturday’s 42-19 defeat with a head knock and World Rugby’s new HIA laws recommending a 12-day stand down in such circumstances.
However, it emerged after the game on Saturday that despite being taken off, Sexton passed his second assessment, HIA two. Andy Farrell announced that if the Leinster outhalf then passed HIA three, it was a case of “concussion not confirmed” and he could be available for selection.
More detail has now been provided on that process, with the third HIA test expected to be completed on Monday.
This is not the first time confusion has surrounded head injuries on Ireland’s tour. Jeremy Loughman was remarkably allowed to return to the field after appearing to stumble due to a head injury in the second minute of the clash against the Maori All Blacks, only for New Zealand rugby to later admit a communication error led to him coming back onto the park.
In other injury news, Mack Hansen is poised to return to the Irish starting XV for the second Test in Dunedin. The Australian-born Connacht winger made a serious impression in starting four of Ireland’s five Six Nations games before being ruled out of the first Test after testing positive for Covid. The 23-year-old has since completed his period of isolation and has resumed training.
Keith Earls vindicated his selection in the first test in Hansen’s stead, cementing his status as Ireland’s second highest try scorer of all time behind Brian O’Driscoll when sharply finishing a 18-phase attack to register his 35th try in 97 Tests at Eden Park.
However, it would be no surprise if Hansen is restored to the team as Andy Farrell and the Irish coaching staff continue to invest in Hansen, a versatile player who could prove a valuable addition to the Irish squad for next year’s World Cup and beyond.
Leinster loosehead Ed Byrne arrived in Auckland on Saturday evening, while Stuart McCloskey is scheduled to arrive on Monday as a replacement for his fellow Ulster midfielder James Hume, who has returned home.
Rob Herring and Harry Byrne are also expected to take a full part in training this week, but Jeremy Loughman and Dave Heffernan are confirmed criteria one concussions so will follow the 12 day return to play protocols.
Finlay Bealham, ruled out of the first Test after testing positive for Covid, will be available to train later this week once his period of isolation is complete.