Paul O'Connell recovery provides 'real positive' for Ireland after Earls ruled out
PAUL O'CONNELL and Sean O'Brien will return to Ireland training today aiming to prove their fitness for Saturday's opening November Test against Samoa.
The Ireland management yesterday suffered a blow with the news that Keith Earls will miss the Aviva Stadium clash with a knee injury, but the news was otherwise positive, with the rest of the walking wounded nearing fitness.
Ireland manager Mick Kearney shrugged off reports from France that a hip injury was the reason Jonathan Sexton was left on the Racing Metro bench on Saturday, admitting that he had strained the joint but adding that he was confident the out-half would be available to face Samoa.
Joe Schmidt is set to name his captain at Thursday's team announcement, with O'Connell the favourite if he can prove that he has shaken off the calf injury that has kept him out of full training so far.
The former Munster and Lions skipper has led Ireland on eight occasions while covering for Brian O'Driscoll, but has never been given the job on a full-time basis.
He came through running sessions on Saturday and yesterday and the management are hopeful that he will be able to wear the green jersey for the first time since the draw with France in the 2012 Six Nations.
O'Driscoll is fit to play, while Cian Healy returned to training yesterday. Robbie Henshaw will join O'Connell and O'Brien in coming back today, while Rory Best, Declan Fitzpatrick and Mike Ross have all come through training and should be available.
Andrew Trimble, Donncha O'Callaghan and Roger Wilson have returned to the squad having been called up as cover last week, but Leinster prop Martin Moore has been left out.
"Last week there was genuine, major concern surrounding Paul. That he has come through so well over the last couple of days is a real positive," Kearney said.
"The only person who has been ruled out is Keith."
Earls remains a doubt for the Australia and New Zealand games with patella tendonitis. His absence could give Leinster's Dave Kearney his first cap against the Samoans.