IRELAND look set to start their Six Nations defence without Johnny Sexton after the fly-half suffered his fourth concussion in 12 months.
Sexton is out of action for 12 weeks on the advice of French neurologist Dr Jean-François Cherman and will miss the games away to Italy and at home to France.
The injury occurred during Ireland’s win over Australia in the autumn after the Racing Metro player clashed heads with Rob Kearney in the final minutes of the match.
He has been unable to play for his club since then but has been well enough to train with the team despite suffering from headaches and nausea.
Sexton’s absence looks set to present Ian Madigan, Ian Keatley and Paddy Jackson with an early chance to make their case to be selected for the World Cup squad later in the year.