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27th Jan 2015

Sean O’Brien set for Ireland return as Johnny Sexton remains in contact-free zone

The Leinster back-row may feature against England Saxons

Patrick McCarry

A heady mix of good news, bad news at ‘wait and see’ from the Irish rugby camp

Johnny Sexton has been taking part in Irish training this week, at Carton House, and running set plays with his international teammates. The Racing Métro out-half, however, remains precluded from taking contact for two more weeks.

Ireland assistant coach, Richie Murphy believes Sexton, who was stood down from rugby for 12 weeks in late November following concussion, would be able to resume playing duties for the February 14 visit of France to the Aviva. Murphy reiterated that the concussion call was made by Racing and had nothing to do with senior Irish management.

He added, ‘He’s trained today, done all the handling stuff, all the non-contact training and then a lot of fitness work as well. So he’s looking very fit and very fresh.’

Joe Schmidt  with Jonathan Sexton 27/1/2015

In the meantime, the battle for the Ireland No.10 jersey is a two-horse race [with inside centre Noel Reid as a fall-back option]. Murphy has backed Ian Madigan to overcome his goal-kicking jitters from last weekend, against Wasps, but has also pushed the case of Munster out-half Ian Keatley.

There was positive news on the possible inclusion of Sean O’Brien in the Ireland Wolfhounds team to play England Saxons on Friday. Murphy told us the Leinster back-row has trained fully this week and is in contention to be included in the squad, which will be announced on Thursday.

It is unlikely, however, that either Dave Kearney or Cian Healy will feature. Healy ‘is a little further behind’ in his return-to-play progress than O’Brien and now appears to be targeting the Six Nations opener against Italy, on February 7, as a comeback date.

Kearney was withdrawn from Leinster’s Pool 2 match against Wasps, last Saturday. Murphy believes the winger’s damaged shoulder is badly bruised, as opposed to dislocated or subluxed, and is hopeful he will be fit to face Italy. Conor Murray has been topping up on his fitness work but will see a specialist this week about a lingering neck injury he picked up in an away win over Zebre.

Simon Zebo and Rob Kearney 27/1/2015

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