Heaslip's race against time for Six Nations opener
Jamie Heaslip did not take a full part in Ireland's training session at Carton House yesterday and is now a major doubt to play in Saturday's meeting with Italy.
Coach Joe Schmidt is already without his out-half Johnny Sexton for the opening game of his side's Six Nations defence in Rome and faces another blow if his vice-captain fails to recover from his shoulder injury in time to play.
Previously, the Irish management have used their Tuesday training session as a deadline for players battling injury playing at the weekend and, while the IRFU refused to comment on whether Heaslip trained yesterday or to issue an update on his injury, it is understood he took a limited part and was seen leaving the session before the rest of his team-mates.
It seems highly unlikely that the Naas native will be risked for the first game, having not played 80 minutes in 2015. He suffered his damaged shoulder when playing for Leinster against Ulster on January 3 and was uncharacteristically taken off against Castres and Wasps.
The doubt over Heaslip could see Sean O'Brien pressed into action after he trained fully yesterday along with Cian Healy, but he may be kept in reserve, with Peter O'Mahony the front-runner to wear the No 8 jersey, with Dominic Ryan and Jordi Murphy battling Tommy O'Donnell for the other back-row slots.
"We have to make sure that we go to Rome with players capable of getting through 80 minutes. We don't want to go there with players who are potential risks in a Test match," a guarded forwards coach Simon Easterby said before the training session took place.
"Peter O'Mahony started (at No 8) for Munster against Sale, so he is an obvious candidate. Jordi Murphy, Tommy O'Donnell, they are all capable of slotting in to that eight positions, so we have to get past the Jamie question first as he is the incumbent."
That session had to be postponed yesterday morning due to frost but took place in the afternoon.
Before training, Conor Murray confirmed that he'll be available to play, having overcome the neck disc problem that ruled him out of Munster's European games against Saracens and Sale.
"I just over-extended it and required a couple of weeks out," Murray said. "It was probably a bit too soon for those two European games with Munster. I was probably a little bit touch and go, maybe I could have got back, but speaking to the specialists and doctors, they probably advised against.
"So I've rehabbed it well, did a bit of contact on Friday in the Aviva, and did a bit more yesterday. I came through really well and I'm feeling good again. I'm fit to play."
Schmidt and Italy coach Jacques Brunel name their teams tomorrow.