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The training ground moment that sidelined Ireland's Johnny Sexton

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Andy Farrell has explained how veteran Johnny Sexton promptly withdrew himself from Ireland training on Wednesday as soon as he felt the hamstring twinge that has ruled him out of this Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations match in Paris against France. The hope now is that this quick reaction by the skipper will ensure he will be back available for the closing rounds of the tournament in March, but the round three game versus Italy on February 27 might be a stretch for the 36-year-old.      

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There were no issues in the early part of the Ireland session at Carton House on Maynooth on Wednesday when photographers and TV cameras were present. However, Sexton pulled up when the session continued behind closed doors and the injury has resulted in the promotion of Joey Carbery to the No10 jersey with Jack Carty providing cover on the bench. 

Asked on Thursday how Sexton had picked up the training ground injury, whether it was while running or kicking, Farrell said: “It’s just training, he was doing a bit of everything so had an awareness and he pulled out of training before anything serious happened.

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“It’s a small hamstring strain that is definitely going to keep him out for this weekend but we don’t envisage it being difficult at all. He might be a week to ten days but what we don’t want to do is risk anything and make that worse and take him out of the competition completely. We expect him to be back pretty soon.”

Sexton’s unavailability in previous times was something that had damaged Ireland’s prospects at the 2015 and 2019 World Cups where he missed key games through injury and the back-up wasn’t of sufficient quality. 

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However, this week’s dramatic development can now be seen as potentially creating the ideal testing ground for the promoted Carbery to show he is now ready to take on the mantle of being a No10 Test level starter 19 months out from the start of the 2023 World Cup in France. Although previously capped on 28 occasions by Ireland, the 26-year-old has only ever made nine starts and none of those came in the Six Nations.

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Farrell, though, outlined his reasons why Ireland should still be confident playing away to France without Sexton as their No10. “Because we are a group. It’s not just about one player, it never has been or will be and we want to grow as a group and we will make sure we approach every game in that manner anyway. 

“It is what it is and that is the sport that we love, there are always twists and turns within a Six Nations competition. It’s a long old competition, it spans over eight weeks for us so there is always going to be things that we have to deal with. 

“Johnny is an important member of our group being skipper of the side, he is integral to how we push forward with many parts of our environment but at the same time, this is just about the group. 

“Johnny will travel with us and will be as leading as he possibly can be but this is about the group. It is a great development for us as a team going forward as well and we still expect ourselves to be at our best in Paris on Saturday.”

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Carbery’s promotion for the injury-hit Sexton was the only change Farrell made to the starting XV that defeated Wales 29-7 last Saturday as the coach resisted the temptation to include fit-again duo Robbie Henshaw and Iain Henderson from the start at the Stade de France. He  instead named them on the bench in place of Ryan Baird and James Hume.  

“The side played pretty well last week, there is a bit of cohesion there. Robbie and Hendy have not had as much training time as others have had. Now they are fit and well and had a great week back in the thick of things. They are ready to add off the bench.”

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