Sunday 18 February 2018

Jamie Heaslip remains a doubt but Conor Murray to be available for Rome opener

Jamie Heaslip of Ireland
Jamie Heaslip of Ireland
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Jamie Heaslip remains a doubt for Ireland’s opening Six Nations game against Italy on Saturday.

The Leinster No8 has been nursing a shoulder injury since coming off against Ulster on January 3 and, while he played in his province’s European games against Castres and Wasps, has yet to fully recover.

Team manager Mick Kearney said today that the vice captain is a “small doubt” for the Stadio Olimpico clash, but the rest of his injury bulletin was largely positive.

Sean O’Brien, meanwhile, has shown no ill-effects from his return for the Ireland Wolfhounds on Friday night and is contention to make the bench at least against Italy. Similarly, Iain Henderson, Jack McGrath, Mike Ross and Keith Earls came through without an issue.

Cian Healy remains a live contender for the second game of the campaign against France on St Valentine’s Day, while Johnny Sexton will meet his neurosurgeon in Paris on Thursday to establish his availability for that clash.

Healy is undergoing testing today on his injured hamstring and is set to return to training this week.

Conor Murray is expected to be available for Saturday’s game, while Dave Kearney has also recovered from the shoulder injury he suffered against Wasps.

Eoin Reddan is also a doubt for this weekend as he recovers from a knee ligament injury, but Luke Fitzgerald should return to training after suffering from a stomach bug that ruled him out of the Wolfhounds’ defeat to England Saxons on Friday night.

Fergus McFadden could yet play some part in the Six Nations having been left out of the squad for the opening two games due to a rib cartilage injury sustained at Irish Independent Park, while Mike McCarthy is said to be recovering well from the concussion he suffered on Friday.

The biggest concern remains Heaslip, who has no obvious like-for-like back-up in the 38-man squad with Peter O’Mahony likely to be next in line for the No8 shirt.

He'll train tomorrow (Tuesday) in an attempt to prove his fitness for the opening game.

“I’d say there is probably some small doubt about him but he has rehabbed really well,” Kearney said.

“Jamie being the professional athlete that he is really does look after his body extremely well and would have worked on it over the weekend so I suppose the next day or two would tell a lot. So I suppose the next day or two would tell a lot. But there would be a small degree of doubt about him. Yes.

"Jonathan is seeing his neurologist ion Paris on Thursday. He’s been in camp all last week, trained really well, very focused, taken a full part apart from the contact; hopefully he will get a clean bill of health and hopefully he will be all systems go for the following week (France).

"We had an open training session in the Aviva last Friday and Conor (Murray) took a full part in that. There was some minor contact in that and he came through it really well. We would expect Conor to be available for selection"

Winger Tommy Bowe is expecting a tough opening game as Ireland begin their defence in Rome.

“We’ve looked at quite a lot of them over the last week, we’d know quite a lot of them from playing against the Italian teams in the league but a lot of them are playing in England and France too,” he said.

“Certainly, in the backline, they have some exciting players. The winger (Leonardo) Sarto and (Michele) Campagnaro in the centre, they’ve quite a lot of threats and, obviously, we know quite a lot about their back-rows (Alessandro) Zanni and (Sergio) Parisse and how physical they are up front.

“It’s going to be a tough match for us, we have struggled there against them the last two times we’ve played them over there, so we know exactly what threats they have, what match it will be.

“We’ll go out there focused; first game they always come out of the blocks well and hopefully we’ll get a good week’s preparation in this week for it.”

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