Racing Métro assistant coach Ronan O’Gara has told RTÉ Sport that Jonathan Sexton has been assessed by a hand specialist in Dublin, who will re-examine the out-half’s hand next Wednesday before deciding on his availability to face Italy.

O'Gara said: “I’ve been deeply involved in all the meetings. He’s a small bit down because he’s a competitor and he’s injured, and he wants to get back to play as soon as possible.

“As far as I understand, and I probably know a lot because I’ve seen the scan, and the reports, he has a partial tear of the ligament in the thumb.

“It’s not ruptured, so that’s a great thing for us, and for Irish rugby, because he’s crucial to what needs to be done.

“It’s been scanned and seen by a hand specialist in Dublin, I presume the IRFU and Dr Eanna Falvey [team physician for the Ireland rugby team] would be monitoring everything.

“What has been advised is that the following Wednesday they’ll have a look, and if Jonny is comfortable, Jonny will be available to play against Italy, but there’s no chance of him playing this week against Castres [in the Top 14].

“But obviously it depends how it feels, because the recommended advice for managing these things is between three to six weeks, but that is for a rupture I believe.

“I’m no medical expert, so it’s a case of wait and see Wednesday, and review it there and then.”

Surgery not required

O'Gara was also keen to emphasise that surgery on the thumb wasn't necessary, which is a positive sign. And also that the thumb did appear to be healing well.

"It’s not ruptured, so that’s a great thing for us, and for Irish rugby"

He said: “Surgery isn’t required, whether he’s available for selection against Italy will be determined on how he feels when it’s out of the splint, and it’s quite well protected.

"I saw him on Tuesday morning and it was badly bruised. There was no way he could play this weekend.

“By today, it’s looking a lot better, we have a specialist in France. There’s been a good meeting, it’s been very amicable, because Racing Métro appreciate how important Sexton is to their future plans.

“I think the specialist is quite confident that he couldn’t play against Castres, but next week there’d be a good chance of him playing.

"He'll go to the Irish camp on Sunday"

Meanwhile, Brian O'Driscoll took part in on-field rugby activity yesterday in Belfast but did his conditioning work off-feet to facilitate his continuing recovery.

Peter O'Mahony's hamstring strain is improving. It is hoped that he will commence running over the weekend.

Ireland play Italy at Aviva Stadium on Saturday 8 March.