Henderson injury may open door for Beirne

An injury doubt over Iain Henderson could open the door for Munster lock Tadhg Beirne to make a surprise Guinness Six Nations debut on Saturday when Ireland play Wales in Cardiff. Despite a stellar first season with Munster following his summer move from Welsh region the Scarlets, Beirne, 27, appeared set to miss out on any involvement in this year’s championship after a knee injury in January ruled him out of the first two rounds and then a lack of game-time saw him overlooked by the Irish management.

With Devin Toner ruled out for the rest of the tournament due to ankle surgery following the opening loss to England, and fellow starter James Ryan rested for the round-three clash with Italy, Connacht pair Quinn Roux and Ultan Dillane formed the second row in Rome, with Henderson on the bench and making his return from a dislocated finger. Henderson and Ryan started last Sunday’s win over France with Dillane on the bench and as recently as this Tuesday, assistant coach Greg Feek appeared to question Beirne’s readiness to step up for a fifth Test cap given he has only played 80 minutes of PRO14 rugby since January 19 and was ruled out last week due, in head coach Joe Schmidt’s words, being “a bit sore”.

A reported injury to Henderson, however, may provide an access point for Leinster academy graduate Beirne, who earned his Test debut on the summer tour to Australia, to make his first championship appearance in the country where he rebuilt his career under Scarlets boss Wayne Pivac. Schmidt will name his team this afternoon for Saturday’s visit to the Principality Stadium, where Warren Gatland’s Welsh side are chasing a 13th consecutive Test victory and with it the third Grand Slam of his tenure.

Of the starting side which beat France in Dublin last week, only Josh van der Flier has been ruled out, with a groin injury, with Dan Leavy and Sean O’Brien competing to replace their fellow Leinster back-rower at openside flanker. Leavy has not played since December 22 due to a calf injury, although Feek praised the forward who starred in last season’s Grand Slam campaign for the “X-factor” he brings to the table.

O’Brien, meanwhile, is also short on game time and was omitted last weekend having started against Italy with Feek saying:

“The thing is with a lot of guys that, when you’ve been out injured for a while, it’s getting a run of games that’s probably the key. It’s really hard sometimes to replicate a game of rugby without doing it. Seán would probably admit that as well, that he would love to get more game-time.

“He’s probably just a factor off where he’d like to be, the problem is he sets such a high bar in terms of what he has done that he’s probably expecting a bit more. But I don’t think he’s been too bad.”

Rob Kearney could return at full-back having been a late withdrawal from last Sunday’s bonus-point win over the French due to tightness in calf. Jordan Larmour stood in at 15 but Kearney could be set to finally earn his 90th Ireland cap in Wales this weekend while fly-half Joey Carbery could move onto the bench having missed out last weekend due to a hamstring strain. Both Kearney and Carbery’s returns will be dependent on them not presenting any adverse reaction to Tuesday afternoon’s training session.

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