Bill Johnston will be eased back gently to centre stage

Bill Johnston made an eagerly anticipated return to rugby last Friday when he featured for Garryowen against Young Munster but the gifted out-half is to be eased back into the provincial and international arenas.

The Clonmel man was still only 18 when he played three pre-season games for the Munster senior side in August of 2015 but a rotten run of shoulder injuries has stalled his progress since.

It was an ankle injury sustained away to Rotherham in the B&I Cup in December that caused him to miss out on the latest Ireland U20 squad named by Nigel Carolan for the opening two rounds of the latest Six Nations.

All in all, not a comforting injury profile but few people know Johnston better than Peter Malone who is both academy manager with Munster and forwards coach with Carolan’s U20s.

“With the lack of games Bill has had the last 12 months to fire him back into professional rugby or international rugby wouldn’t be the best call,” said Malone. “We want to be conservative and be sure the risk is minimised at least if we bring him back in.”

The plan is for Johnston to get at least one more game under his belt with Garryowen and, with the Six Nations on a bye week after this week’s ventures, there will be ample time to make a call before round three.

Ireland take on Italy at the Stadio Enrico Chersoni on Friday on the back of a late win against Scotland in Broadwood last week that may have cost them the services of their full-back and captain this time around.

“Jack (Kelly) is under pressure for the weekend,” said Malone. “He got a real bang on the AC joint so I don’t know if he has been ruled out yet but it will be a long shot if he makes it. He didn’t train yesterday.”

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