Recovering Sexton to join Ireland for Six Nations preparations

Leinster backs coach Felipe Contepomi says lack of game time not an issue for outhalf

Johnny Sexton's continuing recuperation from a knee tendon injury will take place in warm weather climes in Portugal this week as part of an Ireland training camp.

Leinster backs coach Felipe Contepomi has no doubt that a lack of recent game time won't be a factor providing he proves his fitness ahead of the opening Six Nations Championship match against England at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday week.

The 33-year-old outhalf picked up the knee issue in a Pro14 game against Munster at Thomond Park on December 19th and hasn't played since. He was replaced after 60 minutes in that match. He was unavailable for Leinster's victory over Ulster and also the back-to-back Champions Cup wins over Toulouse and Wasps.

He returned to running last week and will continue to step up his rehabilitation in Portugal under the supervision of the Irish medical team. Contepomi pointed out that Sexton’s lack of matches won’t be a factor if he proves his fitness and is available for selection ahead of the English match. “The ideal [for any player] is to be playing and have [game] time.

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Tough

"But when you speak about a guy like Johnny Sexton with so much experience and so many games under his belt, I think the crucial thing is to see how fit he is rather than game time.

“We can talk about ideals. If you were speaking about a guy who’s first year [into his] international career going into a game without playing rugby for a month, into that type of game, England-Ireland, it would be tough. But with Johnny, he knows. He’s got a lot of experience, so it’s about his fitness. If his leg is fine, I don’t see that as a problem.”

Contepomi smiled when asked about Eddie Jones’s comments. The England head coach said recently that “Sexton is a reasonably big player who has the bat phone to the referee. He is the only one allowed to pick up the red phone to talk to the referee”.

Contepomi dismissed it as hot air. “Eddie said it; I’ll put it that way. Johnny is the player he is. If some referees pay attention to what he has to say it’s because he earned the right to talk to them. Johnny’s not a guy who will influence referees.

“He’s very confident on what Ireland can do and how they can win the game and their preparation, their scouting. I don’t think he’ll be worried about that. I think the most important thing is what you do in your preparation, how you get into the game, what you do in scouting and analysing the other team. Some people, they play that game as well. It’s part of the showbiz.”

Leinster confirmed that Rob Kearney and Jack McGrath had stayed behind in the province in search of game time and will be accommodated when the Pro14 and European champions take on the Scarlets at the RDS on Friday night (7.35).

Kearney picked up a quad injury in the game against Ulster earlier this month and wasn’t available for Leinster’s two Champions Cup wins over Toulouse and Wasps. He’s been back in full training for over a week. McGrath has played twice since his minor hip procedure, the latest of which was for 45 minutes in Sunday’s victory over Wasps at the Ricoh Arena.

Impressed

Adam Byrne travelled with the Ireland squad as a replacement for the injured Andrew Conway but Leinster are likely to welcome back James Lowe for Friday night's fixture. The New Zealander hasn't played since picking up a two-game suspension following a red card in the Munster match.

He missed the wins over Ulster and Toulouse and was a victim of the two foreigner rule at the weekend. Luke McGrath’s injury means that Jamison Gibson-Park, who impressed in a man of the match performance, started against Wasps and Australian international came off the bench.

It will be interesting to see whether Gibson-Park retains the nine shirt or if Leo Cullen opts to start Hugh O'Sullivan, who made his European debut as a replacement in Coventry, with academy prospect Patrick Patterson backing up on Friday.

Jack Conan, a late withdrawal prior to the Wasps match because of a shoulder knock he sustained against Toulouse, didn't travel to Portugal with the Irish squad and will instead rehabilitate the injury in Leinster. He won't play against the Scarlets while Dan Leavy (calf) "will be further assessed this week ahead of selection".

Ross Byrne is unavailable for the Scarlets game after sustaining a blow to his head in a tackle by Wasps centre Gabiriele Lovobalavu. He is following the return-to-play protocols.