Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton has been ruled out for up to six weeks with an injury that casts doubt over his participation in the British and Irish Lions summer tour to Australia.
The 27-year-old damaged a tendon in his left foot during training on Thursday and was withdrawn from the starting XV for the Six Nations clash with Italy on Saturday.
The Leinster player had only just earned a recall to the Ireland side after another lay-off with a hamstring injury he sustained in the 12-6 defeat to England in Dublin on 10 February.
A full investigation has revealed that Sexton is likely to be out for at least a month, which could hamper his selection chances for the Lions tour.
Lions coach Warren Gatland is due to name his squad on 30 April and with Sexton set to miss Leinster's Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final clash against Wasps on 5 April if the prognosis is correct, that leaves him just two PRO12 fixtures to prove his fitness.
However, Ireland coach Anthony Foley has backed Sexton to prove his fitness and believes he could be back in action ahead of schedule.
"That was a doctor saying four to six weeks, it wouldn't surprise me if Jonny is two to four weeks away," Foley said.
"You take into account his powers of recovery from his hamstring tear and how quickly he came back from that, combined with his attitude to rehab, and he could be back sooner.
"Having worked with the lad this season, I imagine when he gets into the thick of the rehab he'll fly through it, although it will be tough mentally at the start."
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