Schmidt says Sexton could get the thumbs up for Cardiff warm-up
Ireland coach confirms outhalf just ‘a little bit stiff and sore’ after setback in training
Ireland outhalf Johnny Sexton holds his thumb during a training session at Carton House on Tuesday morning. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt suggested that Johnny Sexton could play some part in this weekend’s penultimate World Cup warm-up match against Wales at the Principality stadium, most likely off a bench that is likely to contain a number of senior players including captain Rory Best.
Schmidt will finalise the squad for Japan after Saturday’s game – it won’t be announced publicly – and ahead of the return fixture against Wales on Saturday week.
Keith Earls has been troubled by a little tendonitis in a knee and is unlikely to be risked while Cian Healy, who picked up an ankle injury against England at Twickenham, has played two warm-up matches and would not have been considered for this weekend. He will be available for the return game against Wales at the Aviva stadium.
Conor Murray passed all the return to play protocols but is unlikely to be called on for the game in Cardiff, a state of affairs that had already been pre-determined.
Schmidt explained: “Johnny [Sexton] got put back a bit with that thumb injury and then was trying to catch up a little bit; just got a little bit stiff and sore. He is very keen to be involved this weekend but we are not going to be silly about that. If we don’t think he is 100 per cent and ready then he won’t be involved this weekend.
“No, he doesn’t have a leg injury per se, he’s got a bit of [muscular] stiffness and soreness. If we wanted to pick him this weekend we could pick him. If you had seen him out there and how hard he was running, it’s a progression for him. When people don’t have full medical information and report things there is always a risk.
“You get a little feeling of discomfort and we just didn’t want to do that. Because he got a bit behind with his thumb and was then chasing his tail, we would anticipate Johnny would definitely play if not this weekend then next weekend.
“Cian [Healy], he is bullish. Cian was involved in the first game and the second game, he probably wasn’t on the radar for this game anyway. We are probably just going to stick with that plan anyway. He is unlikely to play this Saturday but will play the Saturday after. I would be gobsmacked if he is not available for that because this weekend [and in terms of playing] is something that we could look at with Cian.
“Conor [Murray] trained fully this morning and did all that was required of him. Our initial plan for Conor was to only play two games before we go, last weekend and potentially the final game of the lead-in.
“He passed his HIA 1 at the time, he passed his HIA 2 post match and the following day he passed his HIA 3 which means according to the protocols there was no concussion. He did cop an elbow to the side of the face as he came across and dropped into the tackle, just as Jonny May’s elbow came up. Those sort of things happen. He bounced up and was fine and trained fine today.
“[Keith Earls, it’s] been really frustrating for him. He looked super sharp. He got a little bit [of] tendonitis in the knee, just above it. It’s just niggling away more than anything else. We have tried to get any inflammation out of that by not pushing him. He’s a player who we know plays really well fresh.
“It is about playing the long game with Keith and making sure that he is 100 per cent ready to go. I know that he will be ready for the weekend after this one. I doubt whether he will be involved this weekend.”
On the issue of speculation regarding Rory Best’s captaincy, Schmidt said: “To be honest, if there is external noise of that nature then there is no internal noise of that nature. Probably for Rory it is that internal noise that is most relevant to him because that is where the decisions are going to be made and at this stage there are no decisions that have been made in that direction.
“So, there are guys who are going to get an opportunity this weekend and if they perform better than any player who played last weekend then there is always a contest and you have got to keep that contest live. We have seen that in other teams.
“We saw an All Black team that was beaten 47-26 come out and win 36-0 with a number of changes, where established players were left out and new, fresh players came in and put them under pressure. So players will be conscious of that.”