Updated: Thursday, 06 March 2014 22:47 | By Agence France-Presse

Ireland's Sexton fit to face Italy

Ireland playmaker Jonathan Sexton was given the all-clear to face Italy in the Six Nations in Dublin this weekend after being included in coach Joe Schmidt's starting XV on Thursday.

Ireland's Sexton fit to face Italy

British and Irish Lions team member Jonathan Sexton takes part in a rugby training session at the Anglican Church Grammar School in Brisbane on June 7, 2013 - by Patrick Hamilton

The fly-half's place had been in doubt after he damaged thumb ligaments during Ireland's 13-10 defeat by England at Twickenham on February 22.

Sexton's club, Paris-based Racing Metro, indicated he could be sidelines for anything between 10 days to six weeks but this prognosis was quickly dismissed by Ireland officials who insisted they were confident the former Leinster star would be fit to face the Azzurri.

- 'Johnny's a shared resource' -

"It was a sprained thumb, he finished the (England) game," said Schmidt in a news conference broadcast on IrishRugbyTV. "There was bruising, and it's gone.

"Look, I think one of the things is there's a bit of distance," the New Zealander added.

"There were some discussions with (Racing coach) Laurent Labit who was not in the country," the former Leinster coach explained.

"Racing have been pretty good value, they understand Johnny's a pretty important shared resource."

However, tournament leaders Ireland have made one injury-enforced change for the penultimate round of the Championship, with Iain Henderson replacing Peter O'Mahony at blindside flanker after Schmidt decided against risking the Munster captain, suffering from hamstring trouble, ahead of a potential title-decider against France in Paris on March 15.

Turning to O'Mahony, Schmidt said the back-row had been unable to train fully on Thursday.

"If this was the last game of the Six Nations we might have risked Peter. But there was a risk.

"He didn't train today (Thursday), and that was the difference. If he'd trained fully we would have included him but he wasn't able."

Nevertheless, Schmidt added: "I'd be really confident for him about Paris next week."

As for the 22-year-old Henderson, Schmidt said: "He's in good shape, he's a good athlete, and we felt he made quite an impact when he came on against England.

"He's got a really good future at both international and the provincial scene."

Meanwhile former Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll, in what is set to be his final Test on home soil before retirement, is poised to set a new world record for international appearances.

The Leinster centre will take sole possession of a record he currently shares with former Australia scrum-half George Gregan should he run out for his 140th Test at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.

O'Driscoll, whose tally includes eight appearances for the British and Irish Lions, has already surpassed former fly-half Ronan O'Gara's Irish record of 128 caps. 

Ireland are in a in a four-way tie at the top of the Six Nations with England, two-time defending champions Wales and France. 

However, Ireland have a massive points difference advantage, of +42 compared to England's +21, two-time defending champions Wales' +6 and France's +1.

Bottom of the table Italy have lost all three of their matches so far this Championship, albeit they only went down 21-20 to fellow strugglers Scotland in Rome last time out. 

Ireland team to play Italy in a Six Nations international at Dublin's Lansdowne Road on Saturday (1430GMT kick-off):

Ireland (15-1)

Rob Kearney; Andrew Trimble, Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Dave Kearney; Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Jamie Heaslip, Chris Henry, Iain Henderson; Paul O'Connell (capt), Devin Toner; Mike Ross, Rory Best, Cian Healy

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Martin Moore Rhys Ruddock, Jordi Murphy, Eoin Reddan, Paddy Jackson, Fergus McFadden

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