high hopes | 

Optimism growing that Johnny Sexton will be fit to lead Ireland into Six Nations Championship

Johnny Sexton was injured against Connacht© ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Rúaidhrí O’ConnorIndependent.ie

There is growing optimism within the Ireland set-up that Johnny Sexton will be fit in time for the Six Nations opener against Wales on February 4.

The captain underwent surgery on his injured cheekbone on Tuesday and yesterday made a public appearance at the RDS where he sported bandaging and support on the left side of his face as he was honoured with life membership.

Leinster have not given a timeline on their out-half’s absence yet, but it is understood there is hope that he can lead his team into his final Six Nations campaign.

Although he feels for his team-mate after his latest set-back, Andrew Porter says Leinster and Ireland are better set to cope without him than they were before.

Sexton has missed a large chunk of the season with injury and Porter pointed to Leinster’s form without their skipper and Ireland’s win over Australia when both he and Joey Carbery were out as examples of the team being able to cope.

“It’s gutting to lose a player of such a high calibre like Johnny to injury like that, but Johnny has been out for a couple of games,” he said.

“In terms of Leinster, Garry Ringrose has stepped up incredibly well, as captain. He is more than capable of fulfilling that role in terms of what you need as a captain.

“As well as that, what we have at Leinster in terms of out-halves, we have Ross Byrne, we have Harry (Byrne), we have so many great options there and across the board and as well as that with Ireland we’ve lots of young talent that can step up – Jack Crowley, Joey – we’ve loads of lads there.”

“It’s tough losing your captain like that and the quality of player that Johnny is, it’s tough to replace someone who is as big an influence on the team in terms of his leadership, his playing style, just the way he carries himself, really.

“It’s tough to replace that but the guys who are in behind him, it was Jack and Ross on the day (against Australia) and they got the job done.

“It just shows where they’re at as well, Jack obviously is a very young player and is getting good game-time with Munster this season and is doing incredibly well and then Ross steps in having not been involved with Ireland for so long and sticks that one over the bar like he was never gone, basically.

“The depth that we have in our squad in every different position, it’s incredible in terms of guys getting their opportunities in big games like that and then seeing them do so well.”

In some good news for both teams, Porter revealed that Tadhg Furlong is chomping at the bit to get back on the pitch.

“Tadhg’s rearing to get back now, he’s been back in training and I think the coaches are nearly trying to hold him down, that’s how much he wants to get back playing,” he said.

“That’s just who he is, he wants to be back out there and wants to be involved. It will be great to have him back. He’s one of those natural leaders as well, you love having him on the pitch with you, he’s one of those big drivers of energy so it will be great to have him back as well.”

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