We are currently trialling our new-look independent.co.uk website - please send any feedback to beta@independent.co.uk


Six Nations 2014: Ireland v Italy - Joe Schmidt claims Ireland have been given the thumbs up to play Jonathan Sexton

Fly-half damaged thumb ligaments in the defeat to England a fortnight ago but will line-up at the Aviva Stadium to take on Italy

Racing Metro fully endorse Ireland's decision to field Johnny Sexton against Italy in Dublin on Saturday, according to Joe Schmidt.

Head coach Schmidt scotched talk of a rift between Ireland and French Top 14 club Racing over Sexton's thumb ligament injury saga.

Sexton will start the penultimate RBS Six Nations clash against the Azzurri, where victory would keep Ireland's title hopes alive.

The fly-half damaged thumb ligaments in Ireland's 13-10 defeat to England at Twickenham on February 22.

Racing coach Laurent Labit last week gauged Sexton's injury recovery at 10 days to six weeks, sparking fears the 28-year-old may not feature again in this year's Six Nations tournament.

Ireland issued a hastily-prepared statement in a bid to allay those concerns, a move vindicated by Sexton's recovery.

Former Leinster boss Schmidt has cut a frustrated figure throughout the season every time Racing have overplayed their star recruit Sexton.

For once though, the former schoolteacher is unfazed by the latest Sexton fuss, claiming there was never any issue with the Paris club, save perhaps the odd loss in translation.

"The thing with Johnny is that he sprained his thumb, there's nothing that is untoward about it," said Schmidt.

"He'll strap it up, just like players strap their shoulders, strap their ankles, strap things to try to give them a little bit of support.

"But apart from that he's good to go.

"Now one of the things is that injuries have to be managed, and one of the things that happens is that if you do sprain something or you get a little bit of internal bleeding, that affects the movement of the joint, it creates pain in the joint, and once that inflammation and pain subsides and the bruising goes, then the joint is pretty much functional and away you go.

"So it was just a case of making sure that Racing and ourselves were confident that the progress in the injury was sufficiently good for Johnny to be passed fit, which he was.

"He saw a hand specialist on Monday evening, and he's fit to play.

"If you get a bit of ligament damage, which is what happens in a sprain quite often, then it can be 10 days to six weeks.

"But we're 10 days since he did it, and so he's good to go."

Ulster's 22-year-old back-five forward Iain Henderson replaces hamstring injury victim Peter O'Mahony in Ireland's only change from the narrow England defeat.

Ireland, France, England and Wales can all yet claim the Six Nations crown.

Points-difference tallies could decide the championship, with Ireland taking on France in Paris in the campaign-closing fixture on Saturday, March 15.

Ireland boss Schmidt appreciates the need for a handsome victory this weekend, but warned there is no such thing against Italy these days.

"Yes we'd love to go to Paris with a good differential, but we need to go to Paris with three wins, and that's the primary concern," said Schmidt.

"If you push too hard for scores too soon, you frustrate yourself and make it harder.

"So we've got to have patience in what we do."