Ireland may be forced into a “do-or-die decision” on whether Johnny Sexton plays in the World Cup quarter-final against Argentina on Sunday.
But there is growing confidence the star fly-half will play some role, according to assistant coach Les Kiss.
Sexton limped off after 25 minutes of Ireland’s hard-fought 24-9 victory over France on Sunday, a win that saw them undefeated in Pool D and avoid a last-eight clash against defending champions New Zealand.
Kiss said the injury was improving and Irish coaching staff hoped for a “clearer picture” after Wednesday’s training, but indicated that there would be flexibility in the timing of a decision.
“It’s do-or-die kind of stuff, so there might be some kind of allowances around a few things, especially with our medical staff and our strength and conditioning. They have a good feel on things too.”
Kiss insisted head coach Joe Schmidt would not be pressured into a decision on Sexton, for whom Ian Madigan came on against the French, putting down his own marker with an astute play-making display.
“We have to be pragmatic about what works and it will probably come down to the last minute when we make the decision,” Kiss said.
“We do need to see where we’re going each day with this one.”
Ireland will be forced into a rejig as captain Paul O’Connell, flanker Peter O’Mahony and centre Jared Payne have all been ruled out through injury. Sean O’Brien is suspended following his punch on France lock Pascal Pape.
But Kiss said Madigan, 26, has “slotted in seamlessly” in Sexton’s place so far. “He’s armed, he’s ready, if it has to be the case, he’ll step forward.”
Devin Toner also backed the Ireland to rally around in the absence of his second row partner O’Connell, an inspirational skipper whose international career is now over as the 35-year-old joins European giants Toulon.
“He is the brains behind a lot of the forward game. For the team it’s a massive loss,” said Toner, who produced an accomplished display against France after being dropped for the earlier pool match against Canada.
“But it’s happened before that we’ve lost players for games, that we’ve had to dig deep in our squad, and we have confidence in our squad these days to pull through.
“We’ve worked hard to forge that strength in depth and forge that strength in the squad and being able to do that the way we did (against France) was hugely positive and we can take that into the next game.”
Kiss, an Australian former rugby league professional, predicted nothing but a tough all-round game against Argentina at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Sunday.
“We know it’s going to be physical, we expect that without a doubt, but the thing they do show is a lot of skill,” Kiss said.
“If they play (Nicolas) Sanchez and (Juan Martin) Hernandez at 12, that is a great opportunity to play off first and second receiver and unleash (Santiago) Cordero or (Juan) Imhoff or (Joaquin) Tuculet. The type of the damage they can do on the edges can hurt you for sure.
“It’s a really broad challenge for us,” the defence specialist acknowledged. “We’ve got a lot of respect for them.”