Blow for Schmidt as Van der Flier and Scannell set to miss series
Joe Schmidt names his squad for the November internationals later this week and it appears he will have to do without Josh van der Flier and Niall Scannell for the series.
Munster yesterday revealed that hooker Scannell has had an operation on his thumb and faces several weeks on the sidelines, while Leinster fear flanker Van der Flier could also need surgery after damaging his ankle in Saturday's win over Glasgow Warriors.
The 24-year-old has been ruled out of Saturday's inter-provincial clash with Ulster pending the result of his meeting with a specialist, but it seems highly likely he will miss the three games next month against South Africa, Fiji and Argentina.
Scannell was Ireland's second-choice hooker behind captain Rory Best for last season's Six Nations and he started two of the three Tests during the summer tour of the United States and Japan.
His loss is softened by the current form and fitness of Leinster's Seán Cronin who missed most of the second half of last season, while Best made his first appearance of the campaign off the bench for Ulster in their loss to La Rochelle on Sunday.
Van der Flier, meanwhile, has enjoyed a fine campaign to date and would have been expected to have gotten the nod when Schmidt confirms his panel on Thursday.
Seán O'Brien's expected return is timely, as is the fitness of Dan Leavy who came back last weekend. Ireland's back-row options are well-stocked, with Tommy O'Donnell playing well for Munster after a spell out of the international set-up.
This week's clash may come too soon for Rob Kearney who trained last week and will step up his efforts ahead of the Ulster clash.
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The Ireland full-back has missed a significant chunk of action due to his hamstring tear and with just two games to go until the South Africa clash, he is under pressure to return given Jared Payne's ongoing issues and Simon Zebo's impending departure to France which could affect his selection for Ireland.
Barry Daly is likely to miss the Ulster game with an ankle problem, but Rory O'Loughlin and Richardt Strauss are fit again.
The province go into Saturday evening's game on the back of two bonus-point wins in Europe that leave them in control of their Champions Cup pool as their focus returns to the Guinness PRO14 ahead of their pre-Christmas back-to-back games with unbeaten Exeter Chiefs.
"It gives us some confidence, we understand we're in a really tight pool," scrum coach John Fogarty said. "You saw the Exeter result, it was a superb result over there, and Montpellier have three points, so I think the block of work has been good over the last couple of weeks.
"As a whole squad, the B&I team is performing well, the whole group is really going at it in training, and that's helped us and given us confidence.
"But we did our review today and we can see the improvements we need to make and have to make.
"Defensively, we came undone a few times and Exeter will tear us up, so we're realistic as well. In the scrum and the lineout, there's things we can improve on the whole time, and that's what we're focusing on now, because we have to.
"If we want to get into quarters and make them home ones, we need to be right on top of things. We're realistic with where we are now, we're realistic in what we need to improve on, that's kind of the focus.
"The most impressive thing is how the group is going about its work, it's very competitive."