RugbyU: Ireland hoping for quick return for injured Sexton

Ireland have not ruled out Jonny Sexton making a quicker return than expected from a foot injury despite being ruled out for up to six weeks.

The Irish face Italy here in their final match of the 2013 Six Nations campaign at the Olympic Stadium on Saturday, but Sexton will play no part and his place on the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia this summer is under threat.

The 27-year-old fly-half had fought back from a hamstring injury, suffered in the 12-6 defeat to England last month, which forced him out of Ireland's loss to Scotland and last week's 13-13 draw with France.

But his hopes of returning for Ireland's final game of the campaign ended when he pulled up with a ligament injury in training on Thursday.

Ireland's defence coach Anthony Foley said he could not confirm the length of Sexton's absence, saying he believed the Leinster player could be out "between four and six weeks".

"He trained fully yesterday and towards end of session Jonny pulled up," said Foley. "We never thought anything too bad, we only found afterwards he'd torn a ligament in his foot.

"We feel for the lad. He worked very hard over the previous weeks to get back from the hamstring (injury) and for him to fall down in the last session before we get on the flight."

When asked how long Sexton could be ruled out, Foley said: "I'm told four to six weeks."

But former international Foley later said he believed Sexton's determination to get back playing could mean an earlier return than expected.

"I'm not medically qualified. That was a guestimate yesterday that we got.

"He came back quickly from the hamstring... and it wouldn't surprise me with Jonny if he came back in two to four."