Monday 19 February 2018

Sean O'Brien facing fitness race as Jamie Heaslip and Johnny Sexton return for France crunch

Ireland remain hopeful that Sean O'Brien could train today after the hamstring strain he suffered was diagnosed as being on the mild end of the spectrum. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Ireland remain hopeful that Sean O'Brien could train today after the hamstring strain he suffered was diagnosed as being on the mild end of the spectrum. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Joe Schmidt is choosing from a considerably stronger squad for Ireland's St Valentine's Day meeting with France as Johnny Sexton, Jamie Heaslip, Dave Kearney, Eoin Reddan and Cian Healy come into the equation.

That quintet trained at the team base in Co Kildare yesterday to add to the New Zealander's options, although Sean O'Brien and Rory Best are facing a race to be fit.

Ireland remain hopeful that O'Brien could train this morning after the hamstring strain he suffered in the warm-up before Saturday's win over Italy was diagnosed as being on the mild end of the spectrum, but hooker Best won't be able to train fully until Thursday at the earliest after suffering a concussion in the same game.

Sexton and Heaslip appear likely to come straight into Schmidt's starting XV to face France, but he may be more inclined to keep Healy and Reddan in reserve. Kearney has a battle on his hands to wrest the No 11 shirt off Simon Zebo.

Battling

The vice-captain's return at No 8 would force a back-row re-jig, with Jordi Murphy and Tommy O'Donnell battling for the No 7 spot should O'Brien not make it.

The other option with Healy, who has not played since tearing his hamstring off the bone in September, is to release him to Leinster for game-time against the Dragons on Sunday and target the England game on March 1 for an international return.

Despite not playing for 12 weeks due to suffering four concussions in 2014, Sexton will train fully with the squad in preparation for France.

"He'll go in like every other member of the squad. The idea will be that he will train normally like everybody else this week," team manager Mick Kearney said. "It won't be a walk through. But it won't be full-on. Johnny will be allowed to take a full part in all the activities this week."

Scrum-half Conor Murray is looking forward to linking up with Sexton again. "Johnny is world-class. Having him back is crucial for us," he said.

Irish Independent

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