Ireland sweat on Sexton
Ireland's hopes of having Jonathan Sexton fit in time to France in the Six Nations at Lansdowne Road a week on Saturday were fading following the latest injury bulletin on the outside-half.
Sexton missed the 12-8 defeat by Scotland at Murrayfield on Sunday with a hamstring injury.
Ireland hoped to welcome back the Leinster playmaker and goal-kicker for their clash with France who, against all predictions, are bottom of the table after three straight defeats.
But Ireland team manager Mick Kearney delivered a gloomy forecast on Thursday, saying of Sexton: "He's back running this week but to reach match level intensity there's still significant work to do.
"At this stage we are more hopeful than confident of his availability for France. We would say it's somewhat less than fifty-fifty."
Ireland, beset by injuries, have seen their Six Nations campaign implode with back-to-back defeats by England and Scotland after a win over champions Wales.
Losing at Murrayfield was all the more damaging as Ireland had more than 70 per cent possession and territory.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney's decision to entrust goal-kicking duties to debutant flyhalf Paddy Jackson (deputising for the injured Sexton), even though he is not the first-choice kicker at Ulster, backfired spectacularly with the 21-year-old off-target with three out of four attempts.
In such a close match, the loss of eight points was crucial and led to renewed questions about the future of Kidney, whose contract is up at the end of the season.
However, Kidney insisted he had not been pondering his own position.
"I haven't been thinking about that," he said on Thursday. "My only concern is to help this team do as well as they can do. That's my reason for being here. We have a match against France next weekend and that's all I'm concentrating on.
"There are huge highs and lows that go with this job and last Sunday was a big low, especially after having created so much."
Kidney has also come under fire for handing the captaincy to Jamie Heaslip, who replaced the vastly experienced Brian O'Driscoll as skipper before the Championship, but the coach re-iterated his faith in the Leinster No 8.
"I'm aware there are frustrations out there. Jamie's done an excellent job for us. He's making good decisions and I'm very happy with him," Kidney said.