Sunday 23 October 2016

Schmidt: Johnny has the green light

Joe Schmidt has declared Jonathan Sexton fully fit for the Six Nations: SPORTSFILE
Joe Schmidt has declared Jonathan Sexton fully fit for the Six Nations: SPORTSFILE

Joe Schmidt has warded off any fears over the health of Jonathan Sexton by declaring him fully fit for the Six Nations.

"He has passed all the protocols," said Schmidt, in reference to his out-half undergoing the required Head Injury Assessments 1, 2 & 3 which were completed on Tuesday.

The sensitive nature of Sexton's injury is heightened by the enforced leave he was ordered to undergo at Racing Metro last season.

"It was this time last year where he had the problem and took a break," he added.

"Since then, he's had no head injuries, so as far as we and he are concerned, he's ready to go."

Schmidt followed Leinser coach Leo Cullen's attitude to what is fast-becoming the greatest threat to player welfare in the game.


"I'm always concerned. We treat head injuries with the respect they deserve."

In this context, Schmidt concedes to the over-riding expertise of medical opinion.

"All we can do is go on the best medical decision we have. When they give him the all clear we have trust in him."

It is understandable that Schmidt should feel put upon by the wrath of outside concerns when he has subjected Sexton to the best advice available and come up with a green light.

"They're the experts and if people question that it's a disappointment," he continued.

"No one is going to have the same opinion, but you get the best qualified people to make the assessment.

"He trained really well yesterday. There was no contact apart from with the wind which pretty much blew everyone over."

Now that the issue over Sexton has been examined, investigated and deemed not serious enough to warrant further recuperation, Schmidt can get on with the serious test that will come his way on Sunday week.

Ireland's week-to-week focus will suit the preparations needed to subdue Warren Gatland's Wales at what is sure to be a packed and passionate Aviva Stadium.

The New Zealander was not about to get into the psychological trenches with Warren Gatland, who has already held Ireland up as Six Nations favourites.

"I'm not giving an opinion on who is favourite or not," he said.

This is where Schmidt turned his attention to Wales' out-half.

"I don't think people could not have been impressed by Dan Biggar at the World Cup," he said.

There was also the impact of Gareth Davies, the surprise packet scrum-half, who exploded onto the international scene at the World Cup at a time when they looked light at there due to injury to Rhys Webb.

It will be interesting to see how Schmidt views the indifferent production of a cluster of his experienced internationals when others, like Stuart McCloskey and Josh van der Flier, are showing form.

"I'm just talking about Wales and facts about them. They're an incredibly tough team," he added

"I'm only a spectator in the Wales environment, but I thought they did well in the World Cup," he said.

"Who would have thought that against England, Wales would pick themselves up off the floor to win."

He was keen to steer clear of the kind of verbal theatrics so often indulged in by Gatland, who has already held Ireland up as favourites.


But this is no inexperienced, callow lot coming out of Dthe Valleys.

"They're the squad with the biggest continuity and experience. They have over 1100 caps."

What Wales bring in experience, they match with physical size and strength that could put Ireland in a stranglehold out of which there may be no escape.

"They were the biggest team at the World Cup so they have that physical dominance they can impact on teams," noted Schmidt.

The temptation to look beyond the Six Nations and into the British obsession with who will lead the 2017 British and Irish Lions prompted Schmidt into something of a revelation.

"The Lions is actually a moot point," he said. "It's not something I can do unless the terms of my contract change."

Gatland has already received permission for a one-year sabbatical from Wales.

The same consideration for Schmidt would mean the halving of his two-year contract extension which concludes in the summer of 2017.

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