Iain Henderson could miss entire Six Nations campaign as Joe Schmidt issues Ireland injury update
Ulster lock Iain Henderson could be set to miss the entire Six Nations campaign.
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The 26-year-old had made a very early return to action from thumb surgery to put in a leading performance in his province's 14-13 win over Leicester Tigers on Saturday. However, he picked up an unrelated finger injury that could be worse than first feared.
Ulster fans' primary concern will be his fitness for the European quarter-final in Leinster in the last weekend in March.
Ulster Rugby confirmed on Monday that Henderson was set for 'several weeks' on the sidelines and he was thought to be out for Ireland's opening two championship fixtures against England and Scotland.
Now Schmidt has said that Henderson is also set to sit out Ireland's third game, away to Italy, and that it will be 'quite tight' to rush the lock back for the final two games in March.
"Iain could potentially make the last two weekends, maybe the last weekend. That would be quite tight," Schmidt said, before also discussing fellow lock Tadhg Beirne, who is set for a more swift return from his own injury woes.
"Tadhg Beirne, on the other hand, should possibly make the third weekend and definitely the last two weekends.
"I feel bad for both of them. Iain Henderson, six weeks out, comes back with a man-of-the-match performance and back out again. A really unlucky injury.
"Same with Tadhg Beirne, he’s been so robust, so resilient, he’s played a lot of match minutes in the last three years. He was going really well in that game, got a couple of fantastic turnovers and then to pick up an injury is really disappointing for him."
Meanwhile, fly-half Johnny Sexton is expected to be fit to face England in the Six Nations opener on February 2.
Sexton, 33, has been recovering from a knee tendon problem, but trained for Ireland on Tuesday.
Schmidt said: "He will train fully on Thursday, and we will then ramp up his training.
"Our expectation is that he will get through it without any problems. Johnny is confident and the medical staff are confident."
Schmidt, who revealed that injured second rows Tadhg Beirne (knee) and Iain Henderson (finger) are unlikely to feature until at least the penultimate round of the tournament.
Schmidt played down his side's tag as overwhelming favourites against England.
"I don't think we are clear favourites," he said.
"The psyche is one of enormous respect. You know if you don't get things right, England can get a long way away from you.
"They are a team back on an upwards swing, and they will be driven to rebound well from last year's Six Nations."
Schmidt revealed that when passing Eddie Jones in the venue for the Six Nations launch the Australian joked: "Get ready for a few grenades".
When asked to elaborate, Jones responded: "They're in Portugal, we're in Portugal. I'm going to the airport now and buying a pair of binoculars."
Belfast Telegraph Digital