Ireland count cost of heavy training session as Schmidt loses Carbery, Larmour and Conan but backs Cronin to start
Ireland lost Joey Carbery, Jordan Larmour and Jack Conan to training ground injuries on Wednesday, forcing Joe Schmidt to reshuffle the deck for Sunday’s trip to Rome.
A hectic session at the team’s Kildare base saw the out-half suffer a suspected grade II hamstring strain, while back three star Larmour broke a finger by catching it in a team-mate’s clothing and could require surgery. Conan suffered an abdominal strain.
Joe Schmidt confirmed that Johnny Sexton was always likely to start against Italy regardless of Carbery’s badly timed injury, while Andrew Conway comes on to the bench and Jordi Murphy starts at No 8.
Those enforced changes come on top of Schmidt’s decision to rest Rory Best, Cian Healy and James Ryan as he makes four alterations to the starting XV that beat Scotland in Murrayfield.
Sean Cronin makes his first Six Nations start at hooker in his 68th cap, Dave Kilcoyne comes in at loosehead and Ultan Dillane partners Quinn Roux in the second-row as Iain Henderson comes on to the bench alongside Jack McGrath, Niall Scannell and John Ryan.
"We would have started Johnny Sexton anyway, he needs the game time," Schmidt said.
"Joey has a bit of a hamstring strain, it was too great a risk. Robbie Henshaw would have to do a lot of running against the Italians and we didn’t want to risk him.
"Jack Conan abdominal tightness, we could have pushed him through but it's a great opportunity for Jordi Murphy.
"There are a couple of other guys rotated out to give others opportunities.
"Jordan hurt his finger. Caught it in the fabric. We just decided to leave him until the next match. He’s definitely fit. His numbers in training are incredible."
Having brought him off the bench so frequently, Schmidt is looking forward to seeing how Cronin goes from the start.
"I'm sure he's excited, he has trained well and hopefully that gives him the confidence to step out and do a good job,” he said of the Leinster hooker.
"He will bring the confidence of 10 starts he's had in 10 fixtures, but the amount of times he has come off the bench and made an impact...so why not do that from the start now.
"It's a great opportunity for Sean and one he'll hopefully grab with both hands.
"It's not that he doesn't know we have faith in him.
"I'm sure that's his intention, as much as he's very team orientated, Sean, he will personally want to put his best foot forward and Niall Scannell will be very keen to do the same thing.
"Two years ago it was Niall's big step onto the stage when Rory got ill on the day of the game.
"Both those hookers, it's really interesting for us to have a look at them but at the same time they're up against the Italian centurion (Leonardo) Ghiraldini and a very experienced Italian front row."
Schmidt also confirmed that he hopes to have CJ Stander back for the round four fixture against France.