Wednesday 11 December 2019

Ireland sweating on Rob Kearney and Sean O'Brien as Simon Easterby backs pack


Rob Kearney. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Rob Kearney. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Sean O'Brien and Rob Kearney have emerged as doubts for the opening game of Ireland's Six Nations title defence against Wales.

Forwards coach Simon Easterby confirmed that the flanker did not train as a precaution after he tweaked his hamstring in Monday's session. The Tullow native sat out the first game of last year's campaign after damaging his hamstring in the warm-up.

The IRFU did not comment on Kearney's participation in the session, but it is understood that he also suffered some tightness after the first hit-out of the week. The Leinster man has struggled with back and hamstring problems this season and Simon Zebo is on standby to come in for the Louthman if he fails to recover in time.

Joe Schmidt names his team tomorrow and will be sweating on the fitness of two of his most important players ahead of the critical first game against a Wales side which will feature two openside flankers after Warren Gatland named Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric to start in his back-row.

The loss of O'Brien would be a major blow to a pack that is already coping without the retired Paul O'Connell and the injured Cian Healy, Mike Ross, Marty Moore, Iain Henderson, Dan Tuohy and Peter O'Mahony.

Their absence has prompted fears that Ireland may be outmuscled up front, but Easterby believes that the rejigged forward combination, which may feature CJ Stander from the start at blindside with Mike McCarthy partnering Devin Toner in the second-row, can cope with the power of the Wales eight.

"I don't feel there's any issue in terms of our physicality," he said. "Having lost players who have been mainstays of the side for a number of years, I still feel we've got the physicality and the awareness of how it can be best used.

"If we are smaller than other teams, we can use ourselves in different ways, making sure that we get things right in our tackle, get things right in our clean-out, technically be very good and very smart about how we do things.

"When it comes to scrum, we have ability. Across the board, we're really tight as a unit.

"Hopefully that will show at the weekend in terms of physicality. I don't see that as a massive issue."

Leinster pair Garry Ringrose and Jordi Murphy trained with the squad yesterday but have not been added to the squad.

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