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Sexton set for Wales showdown

By Nick Purewal

Johnny Sexton has been passed fit for Ireland's pivotal RBS 6 Nations clash against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.

Assistant coach Richie Murphy confirmed that Ireland's lynchpin fly-half trained fully on Tuesday, after recovering from hamstring trouble.

Murphy said Ireland now have "a full deck to pick from" with Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien and Jared Payne all cleared to face Wales this weekend.

Number eight Heaslip has been on the comeback trail after suffering a fractured vertebrae in his back, while O'Brien and Payne have both proved their fitness after concussion.

"Johnny took full part in training this morning, he has done all the team stuff and trained well," said Murphy.

"Everyone else has come through, Jamie trained Monday and Tuesday so he's fit and healthy and ready to go.

"And the two boys, Jared and Sean O'Brien both passed their return to play protocols.

"They have done contact today so as long as there's no reaction over the next 24 hours they are both fit and ready to go.

"It looks like a full deck to pick from, and everyone is very upbeat. Everyone enjoyed that session this morning, the intensity was right up there.

"Having everyone fit and healthy is a massive thing for the squad because it puts pressure on everyone.

"The environment gets a nice little buzz off that."

British and Irish Lion Sexton has been widely hailed as the world's form fly-half as Ireland have swept to a record-equalling run of 10 consecutive Test victories.

The 29-year-old limped out of the closing stages of Ireland's 19-9 victory over England in Dublin on March 1, with Irish bosses admitting only on Monday that he still had to prove his fitness.

Joe Schmidt's side can take a giant leap towards a first Grand Slam in six years with victory over Warren Gatland's Wales in Cardiff this weekend.

Sexton's return to fitness hands Ireland a huge boost in the quest for back-to-back Six Nations titles for the first time since 1949.

Ireland skills coach Murphy admitted Sexton is yet to go through goal-kicking drills at full tilt, but backed the peerless playmaker to ease through the rest of the week.

"He's dealing with the rehab guys really, so they have him on a programme bringing him through that," said Murphy.

"He kicked a couple of balls on Sunday, did a little bit more yesterday and more again today.

"So he's in a good place, he trained fully and was running at 100 per cent today.

"He will be ready for the weekend.

"His kicking drills, he's probably not hitting them 100 per cent yet, but today's Tuesday, Saturday is a long way away.

"And he'll be ready to go."

Gordon D'Arcy has been overlooked for Ireland's 36-man training squad to close the Six Nations, but Murphy backed the stalwart centre to force his way back into the World Cup reckoning.

The 35-year-old Leinster centre chose to press on when long-term partner Brian O'Driscoll retired last summer, in a clear bid to feature in the 2015 global battle in England.

Ireland coach Murphy insisted Schmidt would continue to monitor the 81-cap midfielder's form with Leinster closely, leaving an open route back into the Test squad.

"I think Gordon has had a little bit of a broken season through the odd injury and this and that," said Murphy.

"He's a fantastic player and he's been brilliant for Ireland and Leinster over something like 15 years, so the door is definitely not closed.

"He's a class act and a guy that we're going to keep a very close eye on towards the end of the season to see where he's at."

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