Mike Ross and Cian Healy nearing return

Ireland are confident both Sean O’Brien and Rob Kearney will be fit to face France next Saturday, and management could be set to receive a further boost with a possible return to action for frontline props Mike Ross and Cian Healy.

Tighthead Ross missed his first Six Nations game in Joe Schmidt’s three-season reign yesterday, as he continued his recovery from a hamstring tear suffered against Toulon at Aviva Stadium in December.

His absence from the 16-16 draw against Wales on the same pitch was keenly felt as Ireland, with Six Nations debutant Nathan White starting, conceded four first-half scrum penalties and conceded their only try when No.8 Taulupe Faletau launched himself off the back of another scrum three minutes before the interval.

The Irish scrum improved during the second half but the availability of Ross would be reassuring, as would Healy’s return to the selection mix following a knee injury to rival yesterday’s starter Jack McGrath and unused replacement James Cronin.

“I think Mike and Cian could potentially be playing next week, we just need to make a decision, whether it’s for us or for Leinster,” Schmidt said last night.

The availability once again of four experienced internationals, with flanker O’Brien and full-back Kearney sitting out yesterday’s game due to hamstring issues, will be a major fillip for Schmidt, given he could be without Tommy O’Donnell and Keith Earls, both of whom left the field for Head Injury Assessments but did not return to the field.

Schmidt explained his major concern for the trip to Paris was wing Earls.

“Tommy O’Donnell passed his HIA and has no ill-effects. He could have returned to play but by then Rhys Ruddock had taken the pitch and had probably slotted in and was comfortable. It was a change that we were possibly going to make anyway, so we thought we would leave it at that.

“I think Keith has probably suffered a concussion. Again, at this stage, I don’t know the full story. I think he passed his HIA but he may have staggered and therefore he would be considered to have had a concussive impact. That would certainly put him in doubt for next weekend.”

Fly-half Johnny Sexton left the field holding his chest in apparent pain but Schmidt said he was just one of many sore Irish bodies and was “95%” likely to play at Stade de France.

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