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'He's just covering bases': Joe Schmidt insists Johnny Sexton withdrawal was Ireland's plan as injury worries mount after World Cup win over Russia

Ireland's Johnny Sexton was withdrawn at half-time of his side's 35-0 win over Russia.
Ireland's Johnny Sexton was withdrawn at half-time of his side's 35-0 win over Russia.
Ireland's Johnny Sexton was withdrawn at half-time of his side's 35-0 win over Russia.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Ireland's injury worries are mounting ahead of their final pool game against Samoa.

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Despite another less than impressive performance, Joe Schmidt's side eventually secured a bonus-point win over Russia on Thursday, keeping them on track for at least a second place finish in Pool A and with it a spot in the quarter-finals.

The victory came at the cost of what looked like a rib injury for Jordi Murphy, withdrawn after less than half an hour in Kobe. There were further worries when stand-in captain Johnny Sexton was applying ice after his half-time withdrawal.

The influential fly-half had been front and centre of a satisfactory opening half and, without him, Ireland went downhill rapidly in the second period, further underlying his importance.

But, having also sat out the Japan defeat with a groin problem, Sexton's recovery is going to plan, insisted head coach Schmidt.

"It was tactical," he mused. "We said maybe 40 minutes this week, 40 or 60 next week and then we hopefully get that qualification (for the knock-out stages) and he's good to go."

And when asked if the ice meant that 34-year-old Sexton was continuing to 'manage' his problem, Schmidt replied:

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"Not really. He's just kind of, almost trying to cover his bases really. He certainly could have played on. That was my decision just to take him off. We had three tries. We needed one more, took a long time to get. I was pretty nervous for a while but then we almost finished with three in the last 15 minutes.

"It wasn't for a lack of line-breaks or I thought there was a bit of cutting edge play from us but it was just the conditions. You go into contact, for both teams, and as soon as the ball gets squeezed it slipped out like a bar of soap."

While Jack Conan's World Cup has already come to an end, Ireland are yet to see Robbie Henshaw due to a hamstring problem. Add to that Chris Farrell's concussion, a Joey Carbery ankle issue that led to his late withdrawal from the squad and Murphy's rib problem, the treatment table is an increasingly busy spot in the Ireland dressing room.

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