All Blacks v Ireland: Skipper Johnny Sexton cleared to return for second test at Dunedin

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton has been given the green light to play in the second test against the All Blacks on Saturday.

The veteran first-five was forced from the field, after copping a head knock during the opening half of his side's 42-19 loss in the first test at Eden Park last weekend. He failed his mandatory Head Injury Assessment (HIA) and was unable to return.

On Tuesday, fears the injury would rule him out of contention at Dunedin were allayed, as the team confirmed their talisman had passed his protocols and would be available for selection.

"Johnny's fit," said assistant coach Mike Catt. "Johnny has passed every test that he needs to pass, so from our point of view, he's good to go."

The 36-year-old was a full participant in Ireand's training session on Tuesday and his return would provide an immense boost for the Irish, who appeared to lose some fluency, when he left the fray at Auckland.

NZ-born Joey Carbery played a solid hand off the bench as his replacement, but the Irish clearly missed Sexton's guiding boot.

Catt identifies the start of each half as evidence Ireland are more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the All Blacks. During those periods, Ireland were able to put the hosts under pressure with sustained dominance in territory and field position.

Both the scrum and lineout proved decisive factors in the home side gaining the upper hand, and Catt says they will be key areas of focus heading into this weekend.

"I think set-piece is going to be a crucial part of it, to build momentum on the back of it," he added.

"I think, if we get the balance of our game right, we can cause problems. We started off really really well in the first half and the start of the second half.

"When we get that momentum, we are very dangerous and I think it's just how we get to those positions where we can build momentum more often. A lot of it is down tp the accuracy of how we do things.

"The nice thing is we've got another opportunity against some of the best players in the world, so from our point of view, it's a great challenge… how we pick ourselves up from Saturday and really see how strong we are."

The head injury news isn't as encouraging for the All Blacks, with Sam Whitelock ruled out this weekend - and potentially for the third test - after suffering delayed concussion symptoms from the opening test. 

With Tupou Vaa'i becoming the latest squad member to test positive for COVID-19, the team have rushed to ensure Patrick Tuipulotu is eligible for selection this weekend.

The former Blues captain has recently returned from a stint in Japan and has been granted a special dispensation by NZ Rugby to be selected.

"Not ideal,” said All Blacks captain Sam Cane of the disruptions. "Sammy was awesome at the weekend and became the second-most capped All Black of all time, which is hugely impressive.

"We'll no doubt miss his leadership and what he brings, and then Tupou had been playing well all Super Rugby and was hanging out for his opportunity.

"But in terms of replacements, we've got a 40-odd test All Black in Patrick Tuipulotu to bring in. He trained with us last week too, which was awesome. 

"He's up to speed and has slipped in pretty seamlessly."

Join us at 7pm, Saturday for live updates of the second test between the All Blacks and Ireland