Ireland give Jonathan Sexton deadline to prove World Cup fitness

• Fly-half Sexton must be ready on Friday to face Argentina
• Injured captain Paul O’Connell has stayed with squad

Ireland will give Jonathan Sexton until Friday to prove his fitness for Sunday’s quarter-final against Argentina at the Millennium Stadium as the fly-half battles to overcome a groin injury he suffered in the bruising encounter against France.

They are already without their captain, Paul O’Connell, and the flanker Peter O’Mahony, who have suffered tournament-ending injuries, and the open-side wing forward Sean O’Brien is suspended after receiving a one-match ban for foul play.

Ireland will decide whether to appeal against O’Brien’s ban for hitting Pascal Papé in the midriff when they have received the written judgment, but as he pleaded guilty at Tuesday’s hearing, which lasted seven hours because France argued it was a serious case of foul play, it would be against the sentence and they would run the risk of having it increased.

The Irish have never made it beyond the quarter-finals of the World Cup and their tournament record against Argentina is two defeats, in the quarter-final play-off in 1999 and the group stage in 2007, and one victory, in a pool match at Adelaide in 2003.

“It is do-or-die now and there might be some allowances for the players around a few things,” said the Ireland assistant coach, Greg Feek, when asked if training would be lighter this week. “Jonathan Sexton has run more than three kilometres so that is a positive. We are quietly confident and will see how he goes on Friday. The same goes for Keith Earls, who is a bit battered and bruised.

“At this stage, you want to do everything to make sure everyone is fit and available. We have a quarter-final coming up and the players want to train but it is making sure that when we get to that point we can do it. A World Cup is different from the Six Nations, when you get a week or two off, and the November internationals, when you have three games but can mix things around.

“We’ve got guys sitting there raring to go while others haven’t played much. It’s always been our mantra that it is about the collective. That’s something this team prides itself on, so we’ve got to get our head down and get organised for the week. We have got Thursday off and will have a good training session the following day.”

O’Connell, who requires surgery on his hamstring injury, has remained with the squad, ready to play a part in helping the team make history. His words before the victory over France were said to have been inspiring and one of the reasons why the players showed so much emotion during the playing of the national anthem.

“We are lucky that we have a big senior-players group,” said the flanker Chris Henry. “We are a pretty experienced side and most of us have been around the block. Losing players to injury gives us an extra incentive on Sunday. We have the chance to create history and while it adds to the pressure, we have shown in the last two years that we can rise to that.”

• This article was amended on 15 October 2015. An earlier version referred to Ireland’s players showing emotion “during the playing of the national anthem”; the song played before the Ireland team’s away games is not the Irish national anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann, but another song, Ireland’s Call. Both are played at games in Ireland.


Paul Rees

The GuardianTramp

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