Jamie Heaslip boost but Johnny Sexton in fitness race for Wales
Johnny Sexton remains Ireland's main injury concern for the crunch Six Nations clash against Wales tomorrow week after sitting out yesterday's open training session in Belfast, but Jamie Heaslip is expected to recover in time for the Millennium Stadium meeting.
The fly-half watched from the sidelines at Ravenhill after returning from Paris to join up with a curtailed international squad for their 24-hour camp. He was ruled out of Racing Metro's game tomorrow due to the hamstring strain he suffered against England.
Heaslip played an active role in the session, stepping out of the most physical contact drills, while concussion victims Sean O'Brien and Jared Payne were also able to take a limited part and are expected to be available.
"Jamie's at a stage where we feel really comfortable with it so he will hopefully come in to next week ready to go," assistant coach Simon Easterby said. "Johnny needs to be managed with his hamstring so he didn't take part today.
"The hamstring is a tricky one, isn't it? It's hard to predict too far ahead but he is in a good place and he is getting the right treatment. Hopefully, by the beginning of next week we'll allow him to train fully for the Welsh week but there is no guarantee that will come right by Monday or Tuesday. We have to give him the best chance and I think he is getting that.
"Jamie was taking part in all the running side of things, he won't take any contact yet. If he reacts positively next week then there's no reason why he can't be available for Wales."
As well as preparing for Wales, Ireland will have a new referee to get ready for after Steve Walsh was replaced by Wayne Barnes yesterday. Schmidt's side have recent experience of the English referee who awarded a whopping 25 penalties during their win over France.
Wales assistant coach Rob Howley is expecting a tight affair.
"Over the last eight meetings, I think it is four-all. It's going to be a big game," he said. "Ireland are unbeaten in the last 10 games, they are currently third in the world rankings, they play some good rugby and they've got half-backs with real quality and experience."