Joe Schmidt believes Johnny Sexton will see out his Racing Metro contract, despite admitting he would be “delighted” if the Ireland fly-half returned home early.
Sexton is expected to complete his two-season deal with Paris club Racing, despite widespread speculation the IRFU had tried to prise him home a year early.
Ireland boss Schmidt has refused to hide the fact he would welcome the former Leinster playmaker’s return, but was forced to concede it is unlikely to happen.
Instead Schmidt vowed to forge stronger links with Racing’s coaching team, in a bid to ensure Sexton does not suffer a repeat of his hectic autumn schedule of 13 club games in 10 weeks.
“It would be great to have Johnny back in the country,” said Schmidt, reviewing Ireland’s 2014 RBS 6 Nations triumph. “I don’t think I’ve ever made any debate of that.
“To be honest the talk is outside anything that we’ve done right now. If there’s a chance of it happening I’d be delighted.
“It’s fantastic what the IRFU have done with all the players who came up for contract, our targets this season, they’ve signed them all on.
“If Johnny were to come back it would be great, but one of the problems with that is that Johnny is pretty much a man of his word.
“He’s committed to Racing, and it would be pretty hard to see him coming out of there.
Ireland’s central contracting system allows Schmidt a hefty say in when top stars play, and when they rest.
The four provinces are amenable to protecting players from overwork too, aiming to prolong the careers of frontline stars.
Ireland players based overseas are offered no such protection or sympathy, hence Schmidt’s clear desire to see Sexton return home.
The thumb ligament injury Sexton suffered against England raised friction between Ireland and Racing, with country and club issuing differing recovery timescales.
Ireland’s prognosis was proved the more accurate, but former English teacher Schmidt is confident Sexton’s second season in Paris will come with a stronger relationship between Racing and the Ireland management.
“We’ve had some pretty good dialogue,” said Schmidt.
“I’ve had some good dialogue with the Racing coaches, particularly talking with Laurent Labit when I was in Paris.
“And we’d hope that we can work a little bit more closely next year, just to try to balance Johnny’s game time.
“The start of the season where he played so often, that was certainly not Racing’s intention either; their two alternatives to Johnny were unavailable.
“But they have the same priorities that we do, in making sure that Johnny is well looked after.”
Some 18 months out from Rugby World Cup 2015 and already talk turns to extended build-up and how Ireland capitalised on claiming their first Six Nations title in five years.
Schmidt has refused to let the world tussle distract Ireland’s far more immediate concerns.
“I’m a lot more short-term focused than that,” he said. “The very short-term is about reviewing what we did well in the Six Nations, and analysing where we can improve.
“Our wider squad contributed massively in our training camps, the atmosphere was fantastic.
“One example of that is Donnacha Ryan, who came in for the last two weeks after injury.
“He took over running the opposition line-out preparation and he was phenomenally good at it.
“And across the board guys were great, and kept pressure on individuals.”