Alex Corbisiero believes Johnny Sexton's fitness is key to Ireland's chances of overhauling England
Johnny Sexton was ruled of Ireland’s opening clash with Scotland on Tuesday after aggravating a calf injury in training.
Utlitiy back Luke Fitzgerald is another struggling with injury and Joe Schmidt has been forced to rejig his side with five changes from the team that famously beat New Zealand 40-29 back in November.
And Alex Corbisiero, a 19-time England international and twice British and Irish Lion, believes that getting their key players fit will be the key to Ireland’s success in 2017.
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“The form teams right now are Ireland and England but Ireland need Jonny Sexton back,” Corbisiero told Express Sport.
“I was speaking to Luke Fitzgerald this week and it looks like he might miss the first two as well.
“But the thing for them is to be ready for some of the bigger games.
Johnny Sexton will miss at least Ireland's first Six Nations game, if not more
“Sexton is a big loss for Ireland but the money game for both teams is that potential Grand Slam decider on the final day.”
The final fixture of the competition will see England travel to Dublin in a match that will pit the defending champions against the 2015 winners.
Schmidt’s side appear to have been fortunate in that they will face Scotland and Italy, traditionally the Six Nations’ two weaker sides, in their first two matches.
And while Corbisiero admits his former team-mates have been handed the tougher order of fixtures, he is confident they can come good at the right times.
“England have got some tough games – France are never an easy task and Wales away is going to be tough, although they’ve done that before of course,” Corbisiero added.
“I think this team is in a habit of winning.
Alex Corbisiero played for England 19 times but is on a sabbatical from rugby
“They’re constantly avoiding complacency and pushing themselves.
“Missing the Vunipola brothers [No 8 Billy and prop Mako are both injured] is big but I think they’ll gain strides with each game.”
***Alex Corbisiero was attending the NFL Super Bowl LI party ahead of this Sunday’s Super Bowl, which will see the New England Patriots face the Atlanta Falcons in Houston this Sunday. You can catch all of the action from 11.20pm on BBC One or Sky Sports 1 from 10.00pm, with kick-off at 11.30pm.***