By Ed Elliot, PA
Captain Johnny Sexton joked that a cheekbone problem was the best facial injury to suffer as he declared himself fit for Ireland’s Guinness Six Nations opener against Wales.
The influential fly-half underwent surgery early this month following a collision with Connacht’s Jarrad Butler while playing for Leinster on New Year’s Day.
Sexton missed his province’s last three games, including Heineken Champions Cup victories over Gloucester and former club Racing 92, and has been training in a face mask.
But the 37-year-old expects to be involved when the world’s number one side launch their campaign in Cardiff on February 4th.
“(I’m) good to go; I was training last week, just had a funny face mask on,” said Sexton.
“Keep that on this week in training and it comes off next week, so good to go next week.
“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 will be 38 by the time of this year’s World Cup in France but remains Ireland’s undisputed first-choice number 10 going into the championship.
Ross Byrne and Jack Crowley have been selected in reserve, with Joey Carbery a shock omission from Andy Farrell’s 37-man squad.
Johnny Sexton is set for his 1⃣4⃣ @SixNationsRugby campaign.
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) January 19, 2023
Head coach Farrell said all of his fly-halves have room for improvement as he explained Carbery’s absence.
“I understand it because it’s not as though he’s been playing poorly, his form has been pretty good,” he said of the surprise which greeted his decision to drop the Munster man.
“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.”