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Ferris and Best battling for fitness ahead of Italy clash

STEPHEN FERRIS and Rory Best are in a race against time to make the squad for Ireland's Six Nations opener against Italy tomorrow week after missing out on training again yesterday.

Ulster flanker Ferris is resting a knee injury, while his provincial colleague Best is recovering from a rib problem. He was expected to train in Limerick yesterday, but contracted a stomach bug.

The Ireland squad is scheduled to have a closed session today before dispersing for the weekend ahead of their reassembly in Killiney on Sunday evening.

The fact that the Ulster pair have been unable to take part in training eight days ahead of the Six Nations kick-off threatens their involvement. Meanwhile, Ospreys do not expect Bowe to fit until after the second game with France, at least.

"It will be another couple of weeks before we can confirm whether or not this problem will impact on more than just the first couple of Six Nations fixtures," said Ospreys physio Christ Towers.

However, there was better news for Ireland coach Declan Kidney yesterday: prop Marcus Horan is due to return to competitive action with 40 minutes for Shannon in their AIL clash against Garryowen tonight. Horan has not played since injuring his hand against Toulon last October.

Ireland 'A' take on Scotland 'A' tonight in Netherdale (7.30) and coach Eric Elwood says the game is a huge chance for players to stake a claim for involvement against Italy.

"Guys like Tomas (O'Leary), Tony (Buckley) and Gavin (Duffy) are one performance away from making that step up," said Elwood.

Meanwhile, Ulster's 26-year-old second-row Ryan Caldwell is said to be a target for a switch to Bath.

Irish Independent