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Sexton to be named in Irish Six Nations squad despite injury

By Jonathan Bradley

Star out-half Jonathan Sexton is still expected to be named in Ireland's Six Nations squad when boss Joe Schmidt reveals his selection this morning, despite limping out of Leinster's game with Castres.

The 31-year-old has recently spent a lengthy spell on the sidelines with hamstring issues and the sight of him exiting the game early on Friday night will have worried the national coaching staff ahead of their Championship opener with Scotland in Murrayfield on February 4.

His provincial head coach Leo Cullen did not, however, seem overly concerned.

"It was just a bit of tightness," said Cullen. "And when he feels that, he was almost making the call (to come off) himself."

Sexton missed the tour to South Africa last summer while he was also absent when Ireland beat Australia in their last outing back in November.

On both occasions, Ulster's Paddy Jackson was the man to fill in and, should Sexton not be able to prove his readiness for the clash with Scotland in two weeks' time, it would be the 25-year-old expected to do so again in the ground where he made his Test debut four years ago.

One player certain to be out is Ulster's Jared Payne, who sustained kidney damage in the November internationals and has not played since.

Leinster coach Girvan Dempsey believes the province's Garry Ringrose can step up in the absence of one of Ireland's defensive linchpins if Schmidt chooses to deploy the 21-year-old alongside his Leinster midfield partner Robbie Henshaw.

"Defence is so much more than raw power. It's not coming up and smashing guys, it's about reading the game to be in the right position, in terms of footwork, timing and style of tackling," Dempsey said.

"And Garry sees the picture in front of him in terms of defence really well, and there's good connections with guys all around him as well.

"He's developing a good partnership with Robbie (Henshaw) now as well, that's really coming on nicely.

"But he's also a very physical defender, he's extremely committed to that part of the game and can certainly offer a punch in the tackle."

Ireland's fourth game of the campaign will come against the Welsh in Cardiff with stand-in coach Rob Howley wanting to see the game played under a closed roof.

Howley, who is in charge due to Warren Gatland's British and Irish Lions sabbatical, has asked Six Nations bosses for the roof to be closed regardless of weather.

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