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RBS 6 Nations: Johnny Sexton faces big challenge ahead of Italian crunch

By Nick Purewal

Johnny Sexton will tackle the "true test" of fitness on his thumb ligament problem in Ireland's training session tomorrow, according to John Plumtree.

Fly-half Sexton is now expected to be fit for selection for Ireland's RBS 6 Nations clash with Italy in Dublin on Saturday.

Ireland assistant coach Plumtree revealed the latest scans on Sexton's thumb problem show no lasting damage.

The Racing Metro playmaker must prove his full recovery in "tackling and grappling" tomorrow, said Plumtree.

Sexton damaged his thumb in Ireland's 13-10 defeat to England at Twickenham on Saturday, February 22.

Racing Metro last week predicted the former Leinster star could miss between 10 days and six weeks, with Ireland bosses quickly downplaying that.

Sexton took part in Ireland's training session on yesterday, and could now be fully fit in line with the IRFU timescale.

"Jonny trained today and he did really well," said Plumtree.

"He was sort of in and out with Paddy (Jackson) and Mads (Ian Madigan), so we'll make that final call on Thursday but he didn't look in too much discomfort at all."

Sexton's fitness will prove a moot point if head coach Joe Schmidt chooses to rest him in any case, with one eye on a potential title-decider in France on Saturday, March 15.

Schmidt has already admitted he could opt to give several regulars a breather against the Azzurri, with flanker Peter O'Mahony falling into the same category.

O'Mahony trained yesterday as he continues his recovery from hamstring trouble suffered against England.

The Munster captain is another who will be reassessed.

Plumtree conceded the call on Sexton will come down to tomorrow's session.

"I think he'll be pretty good for the weekend, just as long as Joe (Schmidt) makes that call on Thursday, and I think that's positive news," said Plumtree.

"It looks like the scan is clear, so again it's just how that thumb feels. I guess there are certain aspects of the game, like tackling and grappling that will give it a true test.

"So we'll give all that a bit of test on Thursday."

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