Greig Laidlaw believes the loss of Lions stand-off Johnny Sexton is a blow to Ireland but that the challenge of Saturday’s Six Nations opener at BT Murrayfield remains a huge one.
Sexton is out of the match with a calf injury and is likely to be replaced by Ulster’s Paddy Jackson, with flanker Peter O’Mahony also missing due to a hamstring strain.
“I think Ireland will miss Sexton a little bit if I’m being honest. He’s a quality player, great goalkicker and he drives their attack,” said the Scotland skipper yesterday. “He has been struggling with injury over the piece and Ireland would have realised that [he wasn’t likely to play] a lot longer ago than we have. They have quality in behind in Paddy Jackson. They have strength in depth which is part of the reason for Ireland’s success.
“Sexton is a quality player, of course, but we cannot focus on one player. Him not playing won’t affect us. The coaches have done extensive analysis on Ireland that we have bought into.”
Ireland have added Ian Keatley to their squad, with uncapped Munster centre Rory Scannell the only other recognised option at stand-off, and have again defended the decision to overlook Bordeaux’s Ian Madigan.
“We felt it right not to push him through the week and risk potential further damage,” said Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby of Sexton. “He’s had a lot of lower limb injuries, a hamstring injury which we’ve managed with Leinster in the pre-Christmas period. As a result of his calf strain and the fact we don’t want to compromise his calf any further, we feel it best to leave him out this week and make sure he’s right for upcoming games.”
Sexton suffered his latest injury blow in Leinster’s 24-24 European Champions Cup draw at Castres on 20 January.
Easterby insisted Madigan would have been a tricky selection option for the Six Nations’ first two rounds, having been required for Bordeaux duty last weekend.
“What’s the alternative? Is he the first choice for Bordeaux?” said Easterby, of Madigan and Ireland’s selection options at stand-off.
“Unfortunately he couldn’t be with us last weekend anyway because he was on the bench for Bordeaux against Clermont. So it compromises his position with us when he’s not playing in Ireland.
“We’re trying to support the guys who are staying here and on the whole that will be the case.”