Saturday 10 December 2016

Sean O'Brien boost but plenty of other worries for Schmidt

Earls likely to miss out on Paris, with Zebo also a major doubt

Published 10/02/2016 | 02:30

Sean O’Brien going through his paces at training yesterday with both of his hanstrings bandaged.. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / Sportsfile
Sean O’Brien going through his paces at training yesterday with both of his hanstrings bandaged.. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / Sportsfile

Simon Zebo appears to be Ireland's biggest injury worry ahead of Saturday's Six Nations meeting with France, but the Munster back has plenty of company in the treatment room at Carton House.

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As Sean O'Brien returned to full training in the sleet at the Kildare venue yesterday, Johnny Sexton, Andrew Trimble, Keith Earls and Zebo took no part in training and Rob Kearney ran alone away from the rest of the squad.

Joe Schmidt has called Fergus McFadden into his squad as cover for Earls, who is almost certainly out, even if skills and kicking coach Richie Murphy said he was still in contention yesterday, while the coach has resisted the temptation to call Mike Ross and Cian Healy into his squad, which means they'll play for Leinster against Zebre on Friday.

O'Brien is almost certain to come into the No 7 shirt for the Stade de France clash, while Kearney is expected to be named at full-back if he can come through tomorrow's training session without affecting his hamstring injury.

Sexton, whose wife Laura gave birth to the couple's second child on Monday, is struggling with a shoulder injury, as is Trimble, who put in a huge defensive performance on Sunday.

"Rob will definitely be fit, Johnny should be fine, he is a bit dinged up but he should be fine," Murphy said.

"Zeebs, the report is that he's recovering really well, he was pretty sore with the knee afterwards but he's recovered really well to this point so as long as that keeps going he should available to train on Thursday.

"Andrew should be alright. He's got a shoulder issue that's been at him on and off so. . . today's less than 48 hours after the game so another day should make a big difference to him so we'd be pretty happy that they'd all be okay for selection.

"Keith has gone through HIA (Head Injury Assessment) 1 and has passed that. He is in that process where he is sort of working through those protocols at the moment. He feels pretty good himself. We will have to assess that later in the week.

"It is a little bit different with a six-day turnaround. It was a pretty physical game at the weekend and another one coming up. There are a lot of times when players would sit out a Monday if we had played on the Saturday so we are squeezed for time.

"No player is going to be ruled out due to that rule this week. We will be picking what we feel is the best team to go to war with France."

Ireland trained in driving rain and sleet yesterday, with Schmidt keeping the session relatively short at 40 minutes as he continues to manage the players' work-loads given the short time-frame involved.

That has presumably allowed the staff and management more time for analysis as they look to learn the lessons from the opening day draw, and Murphy said there is some frustration around the team's inability to take the chances they created at the Aviva Stadium.

"From 13-point start we would have liked to have gone on and further established ourselves a bit further in the game," he said. "They found a way back into the game and then it looked like it was going their way.

"The line-breaks was 7-0 in our favour, which is a massive thing for us but line-breaks are no good unless you can convert them and that's the next level. It was our first game out for quite a while; we'll try to tighten up on a few little things so that, when we do get into those situations, that we can finish off those plays.

"A lot of things come down to the little moments of decision-making that are done in split seconds. You can see moments in the game where the outcomes would have been different with a different decision.

"So, it's very hard to focus and say 'we'll make the right decision next time', it's a case of being aware, making sure we're getting good support through to the ball carrier and that key support players are running proper lines to get close to the ball.

Line-breaks

"You can't really focus on that, you can see it and talk about it, but who knows what will happen next week? We mightn't get any line-breaks and will have to find different ways to win.

"We looked at our defence quite in depth and some of our attack stuff. We felt that in and around the contact area we were quite strong with ball in hand, that some of our cleanout work was very good.

"From a defensive point of view, once or twice we might have been a bit narrow but we dealt really well with getting across and getting guys on the edge; the scramble 'D' was pretty good."

Schmidt has a 100pc record against France and beat them twice in 2015. Those wins were contrasting in styles, but centre Jared Payne says a whole new strategy will be needed for this one.

"You can't really take into account the last few games," he said.

"It's a new team isn't it for both sides? There's new players in and there's a new coach for the French and they might be looking to adopt a different type of game.

"They threw a fair few offloads at the weekend so we'll have to be on our toes defensively or it could turn into an open game. In attack, if we can look after the ball and build a few phases then we could be in a good spot."

Irish Independent

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