Fly-half Johnny Sexton has announced that he will be fit for the start of the Six Nations, providing a huge boost for Ireland head coach Andy Farrell.
The playmaker suffered a broken cheekbone on New Year’s Day when he collided with Connacht’s Jarrad Butler.
Sexton had surgery to correct the issue but missed the Irish province’s Champions Cup victories over Gloucester and Racing 92.
There were concerns that he would be absent for Ireland’s Six Nations opener against Wales, but the 37-year-old has allayed those fears.
The Masked Sexton
“(I’m) good to go; I was training last week, just had a funny face mask on,” he said.
“Keep that on this week in training and it comes off next week, so good to go next week.
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“At the time the European games were at the forefront of my mind. When you figure out you’re not going to be able to play in them, the Six Nations then (comes to mind).
“But from early doors, the surgeon and the doctor they were fine and just said it’s probably the best injury to have on your face, so that was nice to know!
“If you could pick one bone, pick that one.”
Sexton is undoubtedly the country’s first choice fly-half, with either Ross Byrne or Jack Crowley stepping in should the Ireland centurion not be available.
Crowley and Byrne have got in over Munster’s first choice pivot Joey Carbery, who was a surprise omission from Farrell’s initial squad named last Thursday.
“I understand it (the reaction) because it’s not as though he’s been playing poorly, his form has been pretty good,” the head coach said of Carbery.
“But there’s been a bit of feedback, like we do with a lot of players who didn’t make the squad, and Joey understands that.
“Ross Byrne has been getting feedback for the last couple of years and couldn’t get in the room.
“He’s improved on things we’ve been asking of him, so he gets the chance to see whether he can convert to the international stage, he’s earned the right to be able to do that
“And 100 per cent Joey will be working away hard to get back in.
“Everyone has some improvement in them; Johnny is top of the tree as far as his career is concerned but he’ll be the first to tell you he’s got things to work on, so everyone has.
“It’s a great place for us to be. A little bit of depth, a little bit of competition, people fighting to be part of this Irish squad.”