O'Driscoll and O'Brien hand fitness boosts to Ireland
IRELAND were today finally offered some respite from their injury crisis with the expectation that Brian O'Driscoll and Sean O'Brien will be fit to face Scotland.
The Leinster pair sustained ankle and hamstring injuries in the 12-6 RBS 6 Nations defeat by England, but have returned to full training and should participate at Murrayfield on Sunday.
Uncapped Ulster centre Luke Marshall is available to replace the injured Gordon D'Arcy after recovering from the dead leg incurred on provincial duty on Friday night.
However, the prognosis over Donnacha Ryan is less clear cut after the Munster lock, who is nursing a back spasm, took only a limited part in training today.
"Brian and Sean trained this morning and are expected to be fully involved for the rest of the week," said team manager Mick Kearney.
"Donnacha continues to recover from a back spasm. He took part in some of the session today and we're continuing to monitor his rehab.
"Luke Marshall has recovered really well from his dead leg and trained fully this morning. There are no concerns about him."
D'Arcy and Simon Zebo have been ruled out for the rest of the Six Nations, Mike McCarthy appears to have endured a similar fate because of knee problem, while Jonathan Sexton will be absent against Scotland and possibly France a fortnight later.
Paul O'Connell, Stephen Ferris and Tommy Bowe have been missing all championship, while Cian Healy has been suspended for three weeks for stamping on England's Dan Cole.
The Leinster prop is not due to return until the final match against Italy on March 16, but Ireland are mulling over an appeal given that he is effectively serving a four-week ban.
"My own view is that there was a certain degree of ambiguity in the hearing's decision," Kearney said.
"While Cian was suspended for three weeks, he was ruled out of rugby for four weeks. That's an area we'd like clarity on.
"But unless we feel we have very good grounds for appeal, we won't appeal it."
Head coach Declan Kidney names his team to face Scotland at lunchtime tomorrow knowing that defeat in Edinburgh would end Ireland's fading title hopes.
Ronan O'Gara is likely to start at fly-half in Sexton's absence - Ulster's Paddy Jackson is in pole position to supply cover from the bench - but his substitute display against England and for Munster over the weekend were concerning.
The main criticism of O'Gara is his defence, but assistant coach Les Kiss has warned Scotland that targeting the 10 channel could play into Ireland's hands.
"Most teams will target the half-backs. Since I've been in charge of defence my motto has been let them have a go because it's fools gold a lot of the time," Kiss said
"It can actually set the opposition up to go down a path that we want them to go down. If Ronan is starting for us, then let them go there.
"We believe in what we have in the squad. Our defence is strong across the park, so we invite them to attack where they want."
Meanwhile, a report in France is stating that Sexton has finalised his move from Leinster to Racing Metro in a deal worth around £520,000 per year for two years, with an option for a third season.