Tadhg Beirne expected to return for Italy clash

Ireland boss Joe Schmidt is hopeful Tadhg Beirne could return to fitness in time to face Italy in Rome when the defending champions resume their Guinness Six Nations campaign in 13 days.

Resources in the Irish second row have been hit by the absences of both Munster’s Beirne and Ulster’s Iain Henderson from the first two rounds while Schmidt has also lost lineout leader Devin Toner following surgery last week on an ankle injury suffered against England.

Connacht’s Quinn Roux, forming a second-row partnership with James Ryan, called the lineout as Ireland completed a 100 per cent return at the set-piece while also successfully disrupting Scotland. Yet a fit-again Beirne, out since a knee injury in Munster’s European win over Exeter Chiefs on January 19, will be a major boost with Henderson’s return from a dislocated finger not expected until round four at the earliest.

Asked about players returning from injury ahead of the round-three trip to Italy on Sunday week, Schmidt: “I think Tadhg wouldn’t be far away.”

No.8 CJ Stander is ruled out due to facial injuries, but there could be comebacks for centres Robbie Henshaw (dead leg) and Garry Ringrose (hamstring) while back-three player Andrew Conway could also return from a calf problem that saw him return to Munster last week for rehabilitation.

Scrum-half Kieran Marmion is another close to a recall, having been ruled out since undergoing ankle surgery after starting against the All Blacks last November.

Schmidt was satisfied Johnny Sexton was in a good place immediately after the match having failed his Head Injury Assessment midway through the first half. He believed Sexton may have been stamped on accidentally by a team-mate before a heavy landing moments later ended his participation on 23 minutes but said: “He’s pretty good now so we’d be pretty confident that he will bounce back pretty quickly. And we’re always going to err on the side of caution with those.”

Roux, meanwhile, was delighted to have taken his opportunity, though he looked out on his feet as he hobbled off the field on 67 minutes, replaced by fellow Connacht lock Ultan Dillane. “It was something that I’ve done with Connacht for the last two years so it’s something that I’ve got a lot of confidence in at the moment and I was allowed the opportunity to do it on the biggest stage and I think it went really well”

Moreso having been omitted from the original Six Nations squad. “I was disappointed, to be honest, I thought I had a really good November series. I did well and I had called the lineout really well against Italy and the USA but sometimes decisions don’t go your way. But rugby is a funny game, one week you’re not in and the next week you’re starting against Scotland in a massive Test. I’m glad I got the opportunity and made the most of it.”

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