Conor Murray looking good to answer Ireland’s call

Joe Schmidt finally had some good news to share as he named a trimmed-down Ireland squad for the first two rounds of the RBS 6 Nations, with first-choice scrum-half Conor Murray expected to be fit to face Italy in Rome on Saturday.

Conor Murray looking good to answer Ireland’s call

Schmidt cut his extended squad from 46 down to 38 last night with wings Fergus McFadden and Craig Gilroy among those dropping out, the backs duo having suffered injuries in last Friday night’s 18-9 Ireland Wolfhounds loss to England Saxons.

Yet the overriding tone of the squad announcement was positive, with encouraging fitness updates, not just on Murray but also his rival number nine Eoin Reddan, No.8 Jamie Heaslip and outside backs Dave Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald.

& Lions scrum-half Murray has not played since sustaining a neck injury during Munster’s Pro12 win at Zebre on January 10 but was last night reported to have “trained well on Friday and is expected to be fit for the Italy clash this Saturday”.

Wing Kearney, a regular in last season’s successful Six Nations campaign, and Reddan had both been considered doubtful for the opener at the Stadio Olimpico after picking up injuries in Leinster’s final Champions Cup pool game at Wasps nine days ago.

Kearney sustained what appeared a serious shoulder injury in a dangerous tackle from Wasps flanker Ashley Johnson, who was subsequently banned for three weeks. Reddan, meanwhile, suffered knee ligament damage, while Heaslip has been nursing a shoulder problem. Fitzgerald was named to face the Saxons in Cork on Friday but withdrew due to a stomach bug. However, the Leinster quartet are all expected to return to be fully fit to train from early in the week.

As for those who missed the cut, Schmidt gave a rundown, saying: “(No.8) Jack Conan and (prop) Michael Bent did well against the Saxons but will return to Leinster, as will (centre) Noel Reid who was restricted to a brief cameo as he was covering a number of positions. (Hooker) Rob Herring returns to Ulster and will look forward to having an opportunity for further game time. Fergus McFadden has a rib cartilage injury, while Craig Gilroy will follow return to play protocols after a concussion in the Wolfhounds game.”

Lock Mike McCarthy will remain with the squad at their Carton House base despite suffering a concussion during the Wolfhounds game while Leinster and Lions loosehead prop Cian Healy “continues to make very promising progress post his hamstring injury”.

Conan’s departure from the squad means Connacht tighthead Nathan White is the only uncapped player left in contention for a place in Saturday’s Roman encounter.

Ireland RBS 6 Nations Squad (Rounds 1 & 2)

Forwards: R Best (Ulster), J Cronin (Munster), S Cronin (Leinster), R Diack (Ulster), C Healy (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster), I Henderson (Ulster), M McCarthy (Leinster), J McGrath (Leinster), M Moore (Leinster), J Murphy (Leinster), S O’Brien (Leinster), P O’Connell (Munster), T O’Donnell (Munster), P O’Mahony (Munster), M Ross (Leinster), D Ryan (Leinster), R Strauss (Leinster), D Toner (Leinster), N White (Connacht).

Backs: I Boss (Leinster), T Bowe (Ulster), D Cave (Ulster), G D’Arcy (Leinster), K Earls (Munster), L Fitzgerald (Leinster), R Henshaw (Connacht), F Jones (Munster), D Kearney (Leinster), R Kearney (Leinster), I Keatley (Munster), I Madigan (Leinster), K Marmion (Connacht), C Murray (Munster), J Payne (Ulster), E Reddan (Leinster), J Sexton (Racing Metro 92), S Zebo (Munster).

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