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Best and D'Arcy winning fitness battles

IRELAND coach Declan Kidney was handed some good news ahead of tomorrow's preliminary Six Nations squad announcement as Ulster and Leinster allayed injury fears regarding Rory Best and Gordon D'Arcy.

D'Arcy was due to start Leinster's win over Saracens in the RDS but was withdrawn late on due to a calf injury.

However, the centre has not been ruled out of this weekend's trip to Paris to face Racing Metro and a decision on his availability, and that of No 8 Jamie Heaslip, will be made when the team is named on Thursday.

Best was forced from the field in Ulster's narrow win over Biarritz with a rib injury, but Ulster yesterday refused to rule the hooker out of this weekend's trip to Italy to face Aironi in a match that could see the province secure a spot in the last eight of the Heineken Cup for the first time since they won the competition in 1999.

Best's fitness is particularly crucial to Kidney as the luckless Jerry Flannery continues to struggle with injury, though Sean Cronin and Damien Varley provide cover while Ulster's Nigel Brady would be most likely to come into the squad should they suffer any further injuries at hooker.

Full-back is the major area of concern. Geordan Murphy ruled himself out of the Six Nations campaign with an ankle injury while Connacht's Gavin Duffy is in a race to recover in time for the opening match of the tournament in Italy on February 5.

Rob Kearney is still recovering from a knee injury picked up in the Autumn International defeat to the All Blacks.

However, Luke Fitzgerald, who picked up a similar injury to Kearney in the same match, is an option and he completed 80 minutes on the wing for Leinster on Saturday.

Elsewhere, Munster's Donnacha Ryan is a worry as he was on crutches on Sunday night in the wake of the defeat to Toulon.

Kidney will name at least 30 players in his squad tomorrow while an 'A' squad for the clash against Scotland on January 28 will also be announced.

Irish Independent