Wednesday 21 February 2018

Mike Ross and Cian Healy 'in the mix' for France clash but Keith Earls will miss out

Schmidt: Hopeful over injuries. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Schmidt: Hopeful over injuries. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Mike Ross and Cian Healy are set to return to action next weekend and Joe Schmidt says he could call on at least one of his props for Ireland's clash against France on Saturday rather than allow them to return for Leinster against Zebre on Friday.

Given Nathan White's struggles in the scrum against Wales and the experience tight-five available to France coach Guy Noves, the New Zealander may be tempted to fast-track Ross's return to the squad as he recuperates from a hamstring injury.

He chose to leave Jack McGrath on the field for 80 minutes yesterday and, with a six-day turnaround, that will put pressure on the Leinster man to go again.

Keith Earls is almost certainly out of the Paris clash after suffering a concussion at the Aviva Stadium, but Tommy O'Donnell passed his Head Injury Assessment and, assuming he comes through the subsequent monitoring, will be available.

Whether he'll keep his place after an impressive performance remains to be seen as Schmidt said he hopes to have Sean O'Brien and Rob Kearney on deck for game two. The coach was "95pc" confident Johnny Sexton would be okay after shipping a heavy blow.

The head coach conceded he will need to make as many as four changes for France given the tight turnaround.

"Mike (Ross) and Cian (Healy) could potentially be playing next week, and we just need to make a decision as to whether that's for us or for Leinster. So potentially, they could come into the mix," he said.

"There will probably be one or two changes, maybe even three or four mainly because it's a bit of a tough battle. I don't know what the ball in play time was but it seemed to me that there was some very long phases of play and a lot of those phases, they spent about 20pc of their possession in our '22 so that's just a little bit more attritional.

"That's a huge credit to the players in the way they rolled their sleeves up and defended, but at the same time it takes a toll.

"After games like that it will pretty much be 72 hours to recuperate fully and so for us we'll train Tuesday without contact and then train Thursday and probably do a little bit of light contact and then we fly out that afternoon to Paris."

France wil be without ball-carrying No 8 Louis Picamoles for the Ireland game, while Wales were also counting the cost of the battle at the Aviva Stadium as Dan Biggar limped off with an ankle injury and is a doubt for their clash against Scotland.

The French may have squeezed by Italy with an unimpressive display, but there should be plenty of bad blood after Ireland's win over Les Bleus at the World Cup.

Given Ireland's scrum troubles against Wales, Guy Noves is likely to target the Irish set-piece and captain Rory Best admitted that improvement was needed.

"It's one area of their game that, in club rugby and international rugby, that they're particularly strong," the Ulsterman said. "There's areas of their scrum are probably quite similar to Wales, they look for angles and they don't necessarily always want that straight contest.

"For us, there are aspects of that second half that we're happy with but there's no doubt that France are dangerous there. We'll have to dissect that."

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