Change in fortune as Ireland begin with clean bill of health

Ireland’s last Six Nations campaign may have ended in tatters with a catastrophic casualty list but their latest tilt at the championship will begin with a clean bill of health ahead of Sunday’s opener against Scotland.

Joe Schmidt named 34 players in his pared-down squad earlier this week and not one of those troops is rated doubtful — so far — for the 3pm kick-off at the Aviva Stadium.

That means a thumbs up for out-half Jonathan Sexton who reported back for duty this week with stitches in his head after returning briefly to France where he played a starring part in Racing Metro’s defeat of Toulouse.

It leaves Sexton in a far better condition, mentally and physically, than was the case last November while Peter O’Mahony, Rob Kearney, Gordon D’Arcy and Eoin Reddan — all of whom were on reduced duties last week — are back at full tilt.

Injuries, unfortunately, are inevitable so Schmidt will be keeping tabs on Tommy Bowe (groin) and Donnacha Ryan (knee), both of whom have been asked to prove their fitness in their respective province’s next RaboDorect PRO12 games.

As for the long-term wounded, Keith Earls is expected to sit out the tournament with a 6-8 week knee rehab schedule that is likely to leave him prioritising Munster’s Heineken Cup quarter-final against Toulouse at the start of April instead. Seán O’Brien is still facing a battle to see any action before the club season ends, with early May the expected return-to-fitness date for the Leinster flanker.


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