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Sexton winning battle to start against Italians



Johnny Sexton

Johnny Sexton

©INPHO/Gary Carr

Johnny Sexton

Johnny Sexton is set to start Ireland's Six Nations trip to Rome on Sunday as coach Joe Schmidt looks to generate momentum for a big finish.

There had been an expectation that World Player of the Year Sexton might give way to Joey Carbery for the Stadio Olimpico clash, but he has only played 103 minutes since coming off injured against Munster on December 29.

Assistant coach Richie Murphy said while the final decision on selection had not yet been made after yesterday's training session, he said that fans should not expect wholesale changes.

Conor Murray is expected to continue in the No 9 jersey as he looks to play his way back to fitness, with most of the alterations expected to come up front where Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne are in contention. Robbie Henshaw's return to fitness should see him return to the fold.

"The balance is crucial in relation to this week, making sure that our players are getting enough game-time and getting the opportunity to rest when needed," Murphy said.

"It's probably a week where we have to take the game as is - Italy away is going to be a tough enough test. We've to deal with this week, get our formations right to allow us to build into the rest of the Championship. There will be some changes in the team but I can't see it being wholesale."

Sexton got through 80 minutes against England but was forced off early in the win over Scotland.

"Johnny hasn't played a hell of a lot of rugby coming off the Scottish game," Murphy said.

"He started really well in creating space for the try and a few overlaps where he was pretty close to unpicking them. So it's getting that balance right, but he definitely hasn't played enough rugby to be at full tilt yet."

Belfast Telegraph