As medical updates go there was much positivity for Ireland ahead of Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations encounter with Italy in Rome. Yet whether the mental bruises reported by team manager Paul Dean yesterday came from the loss to Scotland or the review that followed it was not clarified.
The chief concerns remain the calf issue that kept fly-half Johnny Sexton out of Saturday’s 27-22 defeat at Murrayfield and the hamstring strain that led to flanker Peter O’Mahony’s omission. Yet Ireland have not ruled either player out from facing the Italians at Stadio Olimpico.
“A lot of the guys were bruised mentally and physically after the weekend,” Dean said.
“At this stage we’re hoping everybody will be in with a chance. We have to manage everybody’s training load to make sure we give everybody a chance. The whole squad want to play next weekend, but we have to make sure that they are fit and ready.”
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has welcomed back lock Donnacha Ryan and prop Finlay Bealham to training after they sat out the Edinburgh trip, while Andrew Trimble has “progressed well” with the groin problem which left him sidelined and was cleared to resume training yesterday as was tighthead Tadhg Furlong, who suffered a bruised shoulder against Scotland.
The likelihood of either O’Mahony or Sexton appearing in Rome this weekend is still unclear but the latest update was more optimistic than last weekend’s with O’Mahony due to recommence running at Carton House yesterday.
“Johnny’s continuing his rehab and his progress will be monitored across the week,” Dean added, “but he’s back running which is very positive.
“It’s hard to tell (their probability of playing). They’d both play tomorrow, they’d play today (if allowed). But we just have to make sure that they are ready.”
Ireland, of course, were positive about Sexton’s progress a week ago and he did not make it past last Tuesday’s training session so it was just as telling to learn that Ian Keatley, who was an unused sub behind starting fly-half Paddy Jackson last weekend, has remained with the squad.
Also training yesterday was Munster’s uncapped back three player Andrew Conway, who was sent home seven days ago with a groin injury while absent centre Jared Payne looks unlikely to make an appearance during the Championship as he continues to rehab from a serious kidney injury. Which means we are likely to the Robbie Henshaw-Garry Ringrose midfield partnership develop further on Ireland’s watch. Henshaw, at 23 years of age the senior partner in the combination forged at Leinster this season, played his first Test match minutes with Ringrose, 22, when they started in Murrayfield and as such were part of a review the former Connacht man said “wasn’t pretty viewing”.
No doubt the coaches focused and will do so again today, on the team’s defensive foul-ups that allowed the Scots to score three tries in a low-intensity first-half performance by the Irish.
Henshaw said: “I think it was more our spacing around the ruck. We were too narrow and weren’t getting off the line. We were square on them instead of hunting them from the inside. Our spacing was what we needed to fix.
They didn’t have the quickest of ball for us to adjust our spacing to the right measure. In the second half we did fix it and that allowed myself and Garry get off the line, putting in some shots and shutting down (Scotland fly-half) Finn Russell.
While Payne continues his recovery, there was some brighter news from Leinster on the Ireland front with their Test quartet of Joey Carbery, Dave Kearney, Mike Ross and Fergus McFadden all declared available for selection.
All four are expected to feature in Leinster’s PRO12 game against Treviso on Sunday, but although fly-half Carbery is the most likely to stake a claim for the latter stages of the Six Nations, Leinster backs coach Girvan Dempsey is adamant his focus is on returning to the Blues’ squad.
“Joey is just back into the fold, and is going really, really well. He has started training back, and is looking in good shape. Just wants to get back on the field. He realises that his first stepping stone is to try and get into the Leinster squad, get game-time under his belt, and worry about higher honours further down the line,” Dempsey said yesterday.
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