Ireland opt for roof open as Sexton returns to kicking practice

Irish outhalf will be ready for the challenge of Wales on Saturday

Ahead of his 100th cap, the Irish players pay tribute to their captain Paul O'Connell as they train ahead of the Six Nations clash against Wales.

 

Johnny Sexton will be fit and ready to play against Wales on Saturday in the Millennium Stadium. The Irish outhalf, who was forced out of Ireland’s last Six Nations match in Dublin with a hamstring injury, is now running at full capacity and practising his place kicking.

Jamie Heaslip will also play, while the two players suffering from concussion, centre Jared Payne and flanker Sean O’Brien have passed all of their return to play protocols and will be available for selection if that trend continues.

“Yeah it looks like a full deck to pick from,” said kicking and skills coach Richie Murphy.

“We trained this morning and Johnny (Sexton) took full part and trained well. Everybody else trained and came through. Jamie (Heaslip) trained Monday, Tuesday and also had contact so he is fit and ready to go and the two boys Jared (Payne) and Sean O’Brien both passed their back to play protocols and they took contact today.

“So as long as there is no reaction over the next 24 hours they are fully fit and ready to go.”

While Sexton, who did not play for his club Racing Metro last weekend, is running at full capacity, his kicking is not yet being practiced at 100 per cent. The outhalf has had hamstring issues before and it appears that the full extension of his hamstrings when kicking has been a problematic area. But there are no doubts now about his availability for the game against Wales.

“He’s dealing with the rehab guys,” explained Murphy. “They have him on a program and he’s working through that. Kicking started on Sunday where he kicked a couple of balls. He did a little but more yesterday and obviously did more today so he’s in a good place.

“He trained fully and he was running at 100 per cent today. Get though another kicking session tomorrow and he will be ready for the weekend.

“He has run at 100 per cent and there’s no impact,” added the Irish coach. “In his kicking drills he’s probably not hitting them at 100 per cent yet. But today’s Tuesday. Saturday is a long way away. He’ll be ready to go.”

Murphy also said that it looks like Ireland will play with the roof open in Cardiff as the weather for Saturday looks benign. Far from it being a trivial issue, the match against Wales, which the players are seeing as a Grand Slam semifinal, could also be seen as a dry run for Ireland’s World Cup evening fixture in the Millennium Stadium.

Joe Schmidt’s team faces France there in their final Pool D match on Sunday October 11th at 4.45pm, when the roof will be closed (Ireland also play Canada there at the earlier time of 2.30pm). That means Sexton, if he is kicking, will not have to make adjustments for wind conditions in the closed environment.

“With the roof closed you are taking dead aim because the ball isn’t going to move on the breeze,” said Murphy. “That’s a decision to be made later on because the weather looks like it is going to be really good on Saturday, dry with light winds in Cardiff, so it could be a situation with the roof open.

“If we felt that the weather was closing in it might be something that we’d have to consider. We are going to have to play in the World Cup there in a few months time with the roof closed.”

Against Wales the home crowd and the amplification of noise with a closed roof is also a consideration for the Irish team.

“They’ll have the majority of the crowd which will make it a little bit more different,” said Murphy. “Whether it’s open or closed our guys are ready to face what comes at them.

“I don’t think it’s going to win or lose the game for us. Yeah it might make it a little bit more difficult but that challenge and trying to quieten that crowd might be a fantastic opportunity for us as well.”

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