O’Connell facing fitness fight

  INJURY TIME: Sean O'Brien and Paul O'Connell enjoy a light moment during training at Carton House. O'Connell is recovering from a calf strain while O'Brien has an ankle injury. Picture: Morgan Treacy

Paul O’Connell is “cutting it fine” according to Joe Schmidt, about being fit to face Samoa in eight days at the Aviva Stadium.

The Munster and Ireland lock, in the frame to captain his country during the November Guinness Series of Test matches, is still recovering from a calf strain that forced his late withdrawal from Munster’s trip to Glasgow a week ago, and has kept him from training under Schmidt in camp at Carton House this week.

Schmidt said no decision on O’Connell’s involvement against Samoa — the new head coach’s first game as Ireland boss — would be made at least until he returned to training early next week.

“I think Tuesday would probably be the earliest for Paul, which would be cutting it fine,” Schmidt said. “He is very much abreast of what we’re doing. He has been out on the pitch for all the sessions. He is the sort of guy who does his homework pretty well, [but] it’s impossible to say.”

Asked whether playing O’Connell against Samoa would be a risk, particularly with Tests against Australia and New Zealand following, Schmidt said: “That’s something you’ve just got to balance and weigh up and I’ll be guided by the medical staff, to be honest. There’s quiet optimism among the medical staff that Tuesday wouldn’t be unrealistic for Paul, if he can get out on to the pitch on Monday and start doing some straight-line sub-maximal stuff.”

O’Connell isn’t the only player to sit out Ireland training this week with Rory Best (ankle), Keith Earls (knee), Cian Healy (knee), Declan Fitzpatrick (calf), Robbie Henshaw (hip), Sean O’Brien (ankle) and Mike Ross (hamstring) also out.

“Rory Best was back on the field training and he had a run out on Tuesday, intermittently. There are a number of guys who haven’t trained yet but we are hopeful that Monday will turn a new leaf for us with the likes of Paul O’Connell and Sean O’Brien, Cian Healy. At the moment it’s a bit of a wait and see.”

Schmidt has released a number of players back to their provinces for this weekend’s league games, with Leinster prop Martin Moore, Ulster’s Roger Wilson and Andrew Trimble and Munster’s Donncha O’Callaghan ending their camps as additional training players.

“We’ve also released James Coughlan back to Munster to play as well,” Schmidt added.

“He’s come off the bench the last two games and he feels like he needs a hit out and by negotiation we’re happy to try to accommodate what players feel they need to be best prepared.”


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