Johnny Sexton expects to miss Ireland’s Six Nations clash with Italy

Racing Metro outside-half talks down rumours of an early return from concussion after doctors sidelined him for 12 weeks

Johnny Sexton has confirmed that he will not be fit for Ireland’s opening Six Nations match against Italy next month.

The 29-year-old Racing Metro outside-half, who was shortlisted for World Rugby’s World Player of the Year award last year, has been sidelined since suffering a fourth concussion in 2014 when he clashed heads with team-mate Rob Kearney during Ireland’s 26-23 win over Australia on 22 November in Dublin.

It’s what you play rugby for, those big days, to miss that is gutting.

Johnny Sexton

The enforced 12-week absence was the result of medical advice from one of France’s top neurologists, and Sexton has conceded he’d like to be involved in the start of Ireland’s Six Nations title defence.

That means Leinster’s Ian Madigan, Ulster’s Paddy Jackson and Munster’s Ian Keatley are battling it out to catch Joe Schmidt’s eye ahead of his squad announcement later this month.

“The club would like to have me back for the big European games, and to miss any game for Ireland is a massive blow,” Sexton said.

“It’s what you play rugby for, those big days, to miss that is gutting.

“I’d like to, but the doctor has my best interests at heart. There are lots of things to consider.

“I’m feeling better and training harder every week with less symptoms, which is great and exactly what the doctor wanted.”

Reports in France had suggested that the former Leinster star could be available for the visit to Rome a week ahead of his return date, but a lack of conditioning and contact time means Ireland’s talisman may not be considered for selection by Schmidt until March.

And the player has talked down his chances of an earlier return, despite his desire to return to action as soon as possible.

“I’ll be mad keen to get back in, but I have to take the 12 weeks and take what feels like punishment, but that’s the way it’s got to be,” he added.

“Hopefully, I can do contact in a few weeks when I meet the doctor. I’ll have to do a couple of contact sessions to be considered.

“I’m feeling a lot better; this is week seven of the 12 weeks I’ve been told to take.”

“My return-to-play date is 14 February, the Ireland v France game, and if I want to be considered for that I’ll have to do some contact sessions.

“I don’t know if I’ll be considered for that by the coaches, given I won’t have played for 12 weeks.

“I’ll let them make that decision. I’ll just come into camp in the best shape possible.”

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