Kearney in fitness race to make Italy clash

Ireland’s fears over Rob Kearney’s fitness have eased but the full-back remains a doubt for Sunday’s World Cup Pool clash with Italy.

Joe Schmidt’s side can seal a quarter-final berth with victory at London’s Olympic Stadium and there was good news in yesterday’s medical update from forwards coach Simon Easterby concerning Kearney, injured in the act of scoring a try moments after coming on as a replacement in the 44-10 mauling of Romania at Wembley last Sunday.

“Rob has a mild strain in his glute but it is mild and we’re hopeful that he’ll be taking part in training this week at some stage,” Easterby said. “Not today, but (it is) not as bad as we feared at the weekend so pretty happy.”

With wing Keith Earls successfully completing his Head Injury Assessment protocols last night and back rower Jordi Murphy continuing to recover from a dead leg, the walking wounded from last Sunday’s win were all able to train yesterday at Surrey Sports Park.

Also involved were Peter O’Mahony, Mike Ross and Iain Henderson, all of whom missed last week’s game having been rested, while Robbie Henshaw has come through the hamstring issues which kept the centre out of the first two Pool D games.

“We’re looking in reasonably good shape,” Easterby said before adding that the Ireland management would be looking to select its strongest matchday 23 possible to face the Italians this weekend.

“At this stage, when there’s a lot of miles on the clock for a lot of players, in terms of the last 12-15 weeks being together and the games we’ve built up, it’s coming down to the business end of the group and we’ll be trying to select the best team available to us.”

Having lost to France in their opening game, Italy need to beat Ireland on Sunday to stay alive in the tournament but while they are set to welcome back captain Sergio Parisse for his first start at this World Cup, the Azzurri yesterday said hooker and vice-captain Leonardo Ghiraldini was a serious doubt after injuring the hip flexor in his right leg during the narrow win over Canada last Satuday.

Despite Ireland’s flying form in beating Canada and Romania, criticism of their performances has filtered back to the players and Darren Cave yesterday followed Tommy Bowe in reacting to comments made on television against the form of fellow centre Jared Payne, warning the TV experts against “throwing out opinions” not based on facts.

Payne came under fire following Sunday’s win from TV3 analyst Matt Williams, accused of “making really poor decisions” and kicking too frequently, comments Cave said would have annoyed had they been levelled at him.

“In fairness to Jared, I’d be surprised if he’s paid much attention to it, but if it was me I would probably be pretty annoyed,” Cave said.

“It can be frustrating when guys are just throwing out opinions which aren’t based on facts of what actually happened in the game, then suddenly that becomes everyone else’s opinion of guys who’ve had a couple of beers and watched the game.

“Then after a week, it’s the perception of half the nation and it’s just completely false.

“At the end of the day it can be frustrating at times but Jared will do the right thing, he’ll keep his head down, he’ll keep working hard and he’ll keep playing well for Ireland.

“I heard about him apparently kicking the ball away too much, but I think he kicked the ball twice and both times it was penalty advantage, and both times we went back for the penalty.

“So we’ll deal with facts, not opinions.”

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