Wednesday 17 January 2018

Irish overcome Sean O'Brien blow to outmuscle Italy

Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Ireland will arrive back from their 26-3 win over Italy yesterday to their Kildare base around 5.0 this afternoon, in time for tea and a recap on what was a successful opening to the defence of their Six Nations title.

Despite their injury list being extended in the warm-up in Stadio Olimpico, with Seán O'Brien tweaking a hamstring, Joe Schmidt's side were untroubled by Italy in what was Ireland's 15th win in 16 Championship games against the Italians.

After the first round of games, they lead on points difference from France, a gap that would have been much tighter but for a disallowed Italy try late in the game.

The prognosis on O'Brien is unclear and he hasn't been ruled out of the game against France in Dublin on Saturday.

"His foot slipped out from under him and he just twinged his hamstring," Schmidt said afterwards. "We decided to err on the side of caution to be honest and Tommy (O'Donnell) didn't let us down. Seán felt that potentially he could have played but with him returning from injury as it was that probably wasn't the smartest decision.

"It (the injury) probably did interfere with our continuity a little bit. As I've said, we work in reasonably small windows to prepare and I think that was evident in some of the stuff we didn't get done.

"It was hard to watch but the Italians were never going to give us anything easily. Their speed off the line and intensity at tackle-time made it really difficult. We wouldn't be the biggest team around so it is quite difficult to physically dominate teams."

Rory Best was the only other injury victim, coming off with suspected concussion and he will have to follow the return-to-play protocols before lining out against France. Schmidt is hopeful both players will have recovered in time for what is a crucial game. Philippe Saint-André's side were tryless in their 15-8 win over Scotland in Stade de France yesterday evening.

"It's a win but we should have done better than we did tonight," Saint-André said. "Ireland will be favourites so we just have to improve our performance from tonight."

If O'Brien and Best come through for Schmidt then he will have greatly increased selection options with Johnny Sexton, Jamie Heaslip, Cian Healy and Eoin Reddan all expected to be available.

In Friday night's opener in Cardiff, England got a huge morale boost not only for the Championship but also for the World Cup meeting with Wales in the autumn. The biggest talking point from the game however was how Wales wing George North was concussed, left the field, and then returned having been examined by medics.

The WRU said that North passed head injury assessments both on the field and in the medical room. World Rugby has asked the WRU for a full report on the incident, in the 62nd minute, which was evident to television viewers.

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