O'Connell cleared to play for Ireland but Sexton major doubt
IT looks like Joe Schmidt's fears about Racing Metro overplaying Jonathan Sexton have come home to haunt Ireland.
There is more than a significant doubt about Sexton's participation in Saturday's November international against Samoa due to his hip stiffening up on Monday night.
If Sexton has played too much, Ian Madigan has played too little in the slipstream of Jimmy Gopperth at Leinster, thus making it likely that Ulster's Paddy Jackson will be the first to don the number 10 green jersey this season.
Madigan returned from the two-Test tour to North America as the heir most apparent only to have played just two full sets of 80 minutes this season, neither in the Heineken Cup.
However, the contrast in goal-kicking between dead-eye Madigan and the inconsistent Jackson gives the former a fighting chance of overcoming his lack of starts.
Forwards coach John Plumtree has been able to confirm that Paul O'Connell is "available" for Samoa.
This comes with a caveat that he was unable to take a full part yesterday, thus making him available, but not necessarily a certain selection.
"Over the weekend his calf got better and he'd a good session. We reduced his running, but increased the intensity on Monday. He trained really well, did a bit today as well, loaded that calf with a bit of scrummaging which is good," he revealed.
This must have come as a pleasant surprise to their other three second rows in contention to start, Leinster's Mike McCarthy and Devin Toner and Ulster's Dan Tuohy.
When the Sharks decided to cut their ties with Plumtree, South Africa's Coach of the Year in 2012 this summer, the cards fell in favour of Irish coach Joe Schmidt, an obvious admirer.
When the call came, Plumtree was interested: "For me, it was an opportunity to coach at a higher level and be involved in a new competition up here in the Six Nations, getting the opportunity to travel and play Test rugby.
"You know, I've been coaching for a long time now in different parts of the world; ITM Cup, Currie Cup, Super Rugby. I've done a lot of the competitions, so the Six Nations and being involved in Test-match rugby is a box I haven't ticked and I'm really enjoying this opportunity right now."
One suspects he is still getting use to Schmidt's detail: "We have a lot of meetings. Even when we're not having a meeting, we're meeting," he grinned.
Plumtree is also one of those New Zealanders who did not spend too much of his spare time looking to Europe. He had his hands full in South Africa.
"I didn't really know too much about the Irish players before I came over here so it's been good, I've enjoyed it," he admitted.
Still, he has seen enough and knows enough to have confidence in his players' appetite for physicality when it comes to the hard, and sometimes high, hitting Samoans.
"You can't avoid that confrontation. It's there. It's in your face. But I don't think that's going to be a problem for the Irish boys. They're renowned for that.
"They've been doing that for years; physical and tough. We want to play a style of game that the people who come to the stadium at the weekend will enjoy.
"But, to do that, we will need quick ball and that will mean confrontation, and obviously with their big ball runners there's going to be a lot of big tackles as well going in to stop them. So it's going to be a big test for us."