Ireland may not risk Johnny Sexton in Six Nations match against Italy
Last Updated: 06/02/17 4:51pm
Ireland may not risk Johnny Sexton against Italy despite the fly-half being close to full fitness.
A calf injury caused Sexton to miss the 27-22 loss in Scotland that has dented Ireland's chances of winning this year's Six Nations crown.
Team manager Paul Dean admitted Ireland bosses could yet put the brakes on the 31-year-old's return this week in Rome, even though Sexton is keen to return.
Munster's Ian Keatley has remained with Ireland as cover, while Dean confirmed influential centre Jared Payne should miss the entire tournament with his kidney problem.
"Johnny is continuing his rehab and his progress will be monitored across the week, but he's back running which is very positive," said Dean.
"As you well know, Johnny would play today if we'd let him but we have to monitor his recovery and make sure he's fine."
Sexton exacerbated a minor calf issue in Leinster's 24-24 Champions Cup draw at Castres on January 20, and then failed to beat the issue in time for last weekend's Scotland trip.
Now Ireland appear ready to take no chances whatsoever with their linchpin playmaker's fitness, eyeing the Dublin clash with France on February 25 as his more likely return.
Peter O'Mahony missed the Scotland defeat with hamstring trouble and is another who remains in the balance to be ready for Saturday.
When quizzed on the realistic likelihood of Sexton and O'Mahony facing Italy, Dean continued: "It's hard to tell, but we have to manage them and make sure.
"They'd both play tomorrow, they'd play today. But we just have to make sure that they are ready."
All 10 games of the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand will be shown live on Sky Sports, starting June 3 2017.