Sexton fit for Ireland's Six Nations return

Ireland will be without Ulster captain Iain Henderson for Italy match; Tadhg Beirne, Quinn Roux or Ultan Dillane in line for call-up; Bonus-point win over tournament’s bottom side would put Ireland in strong position to challenge for the title against France

Last Updated: 20/10/20 3:12pm

Johnny Sexton has been struggling with a minor hamstring injury

Johnny Sexton has been struggling with a minor hamstring injury

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton has declared himself fit and ready to “hit the ground running” ahead of the return of the Guinness Six Nations.

Fly-half Sexton has been struggling with a minor hamstring problem in the build-up to Saturday’s clash with Italy in Dublin.

“I trained fully on Saturday – was sort of being managed a little bit on Saturday – and then trained fully today,” Sexton said on Tuesday.

“I feel good, thankfully. I did some good work over the last couple of weeks so hopefully I will be able to hit the ground running on Saturday.”

However, Ireland will be without Ulster captain Iain Henderson who will miss the remainder of the championship due to suspension following a red card against Ospreys on October 10.

Henderson’s second row partner, James Ryan, insists the team are “blessed” with options to replace him, though, with one of Tadhg Beirne, Quinn Roux or Ultan Dillane likely partner Ryan against Italy on Saturday.

“It is a loss not having Hendy there. At the same time I think we’re pretty well stocked in the lock position,” Ryan said. “Between Ultan Dillane, Tadhg Beirne, Quinn Roux we’ve definitely got cover there.

Iain Henderson will miss the rest of the Six Nations through suspension

Iain Henderson will miss the rest of the Six Nations through suspension

Iain Henderson will miss the rest of the Six Nations through suspension

“I think they all add something a bit different. Tadhg is so good over the ball, a real rangy player. Obviously we know how powerful Hendy can be and the same could be said for Quinn Roux. And I think Ultan is very athletic, very powerful on both sides of the ball.

“Whoever they go for in the lock position, we’re blessed that we’ve got some good variety there.”

Ireland sit fourth in the table but only four points off joint leaders England and France and with a game in hand over their title rivals. After hosting the pointless Italians in Dublin, they complete the campaign in Paris a week later.

A bonus-point success over the tournament’s bottom side would put Ireland in a strong position to challenge for the title at the Stade de France.

“When you start talking about bonus points amongst the team in the lead up to a Test match, you’re not in a great place,” said Ryan. “You’ve got to respect the opposition and see what happens from there.

“We’re expecting Italy to be play with real intent this week. We know we’re going to have to show real intent as well to get a result.”