Ireland hopeful Jonathan Sexton and Peter O'Mahony will be fit to face Italy
Ireland are hopeful that fly-half Jonathan Sexton will be fit for their Six Nations clash with Italy next month.
Last Updated: 27/02/14 4:56pm
Sexton has had his hand in a splint since suffering a thumb injury during Ireland's defeat to England at Twickenham on Sunday.
He could yet play for Racing Metro against Castres in the French Top 14 this weekend, and Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt is optimistic Sexton will be ready to face Italy on March 8.
"It wasn't bad, he's fully functioning and can still pass and do everything," Schmidt said of the injury.
"But we're going to get some more feedback over the next few days. Hopefully, he'll be fine.
"He's gone back to Paris and we've got some scans to be read as well and we'll get some feedback on that by Thursday when we're next out.
"I predict that he should still be available for the final two games."
Schmidt is similarly optimistic over the fitness of flanker Peter O'Mahony, who suffered a hamstring strain in Sunday's 13-10 England defeat.
Schmidt admitted however that he may take the chance to rest both men and hand starting chances to in-form squad stars.
Ulster outside-half Paddy Jackson and back rowers Jordi Murphy and Tommy O'Donnell could now come into contention to start against the Azzurri.
Schmidt also expects Brian O'Driscoll to overcome his calf trouble to turn out against Italy.
"Peter O'Mahony has no respect for his body," said Schmidt. "He's had a fantastic series so far. There is a little bit of blood [on the hamstring scan], but no tear so those things normally clear up quickly.
"It's a case of managing Pete this week so that he can train next week.
"Brian O'Driscoll was cramp, he was walking fine after the game, he trained individually on Monday and he should train Wednesday and Thursday this week.
"He actually hasn't had that much game time this year in total, so he's pretty fresh."
Ireland head to France for what could well become the Six Nations title decider on Saturday, March 15.
Schmidt admitted he wants to keep his options as open as he can for that potentially pivotal Stade de France showdown.
"It depends what happens this week," said Schmidt on whether to rest Sexton for the Italy clash.
"If he's required to play Castres, it's something we'd think about.
"One of the things about making changes, it's probably something you learn as you go and particularly for John [Plumtree] and myself it's new, but if players don't play against Italy, then by the time it comes to France they'll have played one game in five weeks before kick-off.
"There is that real balance. There may be guys like Jonny or Peter O'Mahony who may be starting to get some wear and tear about them.
"And that may guide us in a particular direction regarding selection. There has been a weekend off prior to England, there's a weekend off prior to Italy.
"These are massive games, but there is breathing space in between to get players freshened up."