O'Brien and Best doubts for France as coach weighs up his options
JOE SCHMIDT has challenged his returning players to perform in training today and tomorrow if they want to force their way into his winning team.
Jamie Heaslip, Johnny Sexton, Cian Healy and Eoin Reddan are all expected to be available for the round two clash with France on Saturday, but Rory Best and Sean O'Brien are now doubts for the visit of Philippe Saint-Andre's side who opened their campaign with a win over Scotland on Saturday.
The Ireland hooker appears unlikely to make it back in time after being replaced with a head injury after 43 minutes.
Joe Schmidt did not use the word concussion to describe his player's injury, preferring the terms "ding" and "knock" but Best did not return after consultation with doctors and will follow the "return to play protocols" according to the coach.
O'Brien, meanwhile, underwent scans on his left hamstring yesterday and a prognosis will be made public today.
Schmidt played down the injury he suffered in the warm-up at the Stadio Olimpico, stressing that he had erred on the side of caution when the flanker pulled up at the last minute.
"It was the very last thing he did in the warm-up," Schmidt lamented. "He put his foot down and it just slid out from him and he twinged his hamstring.
"Sean's power and his hamstring were tested (in the dressing-room). The power tested well but we just didn't want to cause further injury if there was a heightened risk, so we didn't take that risk.
"I'd be hopeful (that he'd be available next week). I'd be quietly confident."
Heaslip's return would soften the blow if O'Brien fails to make it, particularly after Tommy O'Donnell and Jordi Murphy stepped up to the plate after half-time, while Schmidt has plenty of cover at hooker with Leinster pair Sean Cronin and Richardt Strauss able deputies.
After a disjointed display in the win over Italy, the challenge will be balancing cohesion and picking the strongest team.
"Part of it will be based around training performance on Monday and Tuesday, we'll be looking at guys and hopefully we'll get some clarity around who would best suit what we're trying to do," he said. "We'll get a medical report on Wednesday to make sure the guys we're selecting from are fully fit, are ready to go and have clarity for that last run."
Meanwhile, France have added Jocelino Suta and Vincent Debaty to their 30-man squad in place of the injured duo Alexandre Flanquart and Alexandre Menini.