Ireland captain Johnny Sexton has been around the block long enough to know that his comments on nearing retirement would go far.

The 35-year-old's physical ability to stretch out his career to a fourth World Cup campaign has been a hot topic for quite some time.

The reluctance or inability of a handful of pretenders to reach close to the standards of the 2018 World Player of the Year, has meant that the changing of the guard became more complicated.

In the professional era, David Humphreys made way for Ronan O'Gara. The Munster legend then made way for Sexton.

Had Paddy Jackson not lost his IRFU contract, or Joey Carbery not been so unlucky with injury then the transfer or power may have come about sooner.

Carbery was not named in a Munster injury bulletin and pictures from today’s training session at the province suggest that his 13-month lay-off with an ankle injury will soon come to an end.

Sexton has effectively ruled himself out of contention for France 2023, acknowledging that it’s just too far out.

That leaves Andy Farrell with a decision to make. And the Ireland head coach doesn’t have much leeway to ponder for too long. 

However, he can’t afford for Ireland to lose against Italy in Rome on Saturday. A fourth Six Nations loss in a row to the improving, but limited, Italians would be a disaster.

So that means Sexton, one of three out-halves in the squad, alongside Ross Byrne (aged 25, 12 caps) and Billy Burns (aged 26, 5 caps), will likely start.

"Maybe Andy will change a couple of players," said Sexton when asked about consistency in selection with victory a must for the Farrell project.

"We were changing in and out a lot [at training] today so selection is still up for grabs.

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"No team has been announced in this environment yet and it really adds to training because guys are competing with each other and guys are fighting for places.

"The team will be announced [internally tomorrow] and then it will be over to Rome and hopefully we’ll get a good performance and a good result." 

Farrell, who was part of Joe Schmidt’s backroom team, won’t forget the World Cup loss to Japan, when Sexton was left out.

There’ll then be two weeks to the Scotland match in Murrayfield and calls will only grow louder for some clue as to who Farrell sees as the man to lead the team in Sexton’s absence.

The former England dual code international comes across as an affable bloke. That the team trust and believe in his methods, is not up for dispute.

Unrelated to Sexton’s comments this afternoon, Garry Ringrose was asked if the 45-year-old was a "ruthless" leader.

"He's very personable and has a relationship with each individual, which is important," said the Leinster and Ireland centre.

"But he does have that, he steps up whether in meetings or at half-time and if there's areas we need to be better at or aren't meeting the standards. 

"They're standards we set ourselves, he doesn't hesitate to remind us in that ruthless fashion you're talking about. You probably don't see it much from him, but he steps up when he needs to." 

The suggestion that Sexton could become a squad player has been doing the rounds. A mentor to a younger less experienced out-half, coming off the bench to close out a game.

If Sexton was up for it, and could stomach the pill of becoming second choice, then it would be a worthwhile exercise, for this campaign at least.

Johnny is a rugby brain and hopefully he stays in the game at a certain level

Perhaps even more so with the other relatively surprising news today that the medal-laden Leinster man will step away from rugby when he hangs up his boots.

"Look, those are very personal decisions," Leinster attack coach Felipe Contepomi told RTÉ Sport when informed of Sexton’s comments.

"Johnny is a rugby brain and hopefully he stays in the game at a certain level. It’s part of his life." 

The page is turning. No one knows how long the final chapter of an exhilarating book will be but it’s been a brilliant read.

Follow Italy v Ireland (kick-off 2.15pm, Saturday) via our live blog on RTE.ie and the RTÉ News app or listen live on RTÉ Radio 1's Saturday Sport. Highlights on Against the Head on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player.