Saturday 20 January 2018

Murray winning his fitness race but McFadden out

Conor Murray is expected to be fit in time for Ireland's Six Nations opener against Italy on Saturday
Conor Murray is expected to be fit in time for Ireland's Six Nations opener against Italy on Saturday
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

CONOR MURRAY is expected to be fit in time for Ireland's Six Nations opener against Italy on Saturday, but Fergus McFadden's injury woes continue as he has been ruled out with a rib cartilage injury picked up playing for the Wolfhounds on Friday.

Joe Schmidt last night whittled down his squad from 44 to 38, leaving Jack Conan, Noel Reid, Rob Herring and Michael Bent out, while Craig Gilroy suffered concussion against England Saxons and has returned to Ulster.

Jamie Heaslip and Eoin Reddan will train tomorrow in an attempt to prove their fitness, while Dave Kearney's return to training today along with Luke Fitzgerald - who missed the Wolfhounds game through illness - has strengthened Schmidt's wing options.

Having already lost Dave Foley and Rhys Ruddock for the opening two games, Schmidt retains Mike McCarthy despite his concussion on Friday, while Cian Healy is making "very promising progress" on his hamstring and remains an outside bet for the second game against France.

Italy are without second-row Quintin Geldenhuys for their opening two games, which is a major blow for Jacques Brunel who is taking charge of his final campaign as he retires after the World Cup.

The Azzurri are in Ireland's pool for that tournament along with France and, while their long-serving captain Sergio Parisse is expecting a tough campaign, he conceded that having two local rivals is preferable to facing one of the Rugby Championship nations.

"It's obviously better to play France and Ireland than New Zealand or Australia - a southern hemisphere team," he said.

"Not because it's less difficult - Ireland have shown they can beat lot of nations - but we probably know the teams of France and Ireland better than South Africa, New Zealand and Ausrtalia because we play them every year.

"Our Italian-based players play against the Irish guys in the Pro12, I do in the Challenge Cup. We know the weaknesses of both team. For us, it's a really tough pool in this World Cup."

Parisse missed last year's clash which Ireland won well, but was present when the Italians brought the curtain down on Declan Kidney's regime on the men in green's calamitous last visit to the Stadio Olimpico.

"Ireland know it will be tough in Rome," he said. "Any team who plays in Rome knows it won't easy, it will be tough and physical and for us a good challenge.

PRESSURE

"We're not favourites, the only pressure we have is to play the best rugby we can, give fans 80 minutes at a high level and if it's enough to win the game, good. It's important to be proud of what you've done on the field.

"I'm not really worried about Ireland, we have to arrive in Rome a very competitive side, every single player is going to want chance to play, to show they deserve to play.

"Sure, Ireland are going to arrive in Rome a really competitive side so it's important for us to start the competition, well, when you play the best it's a good chance to know where we are whether we're really far from Ireland."

Ireland squad for Six Nations rounds one and two: Forwards: R Best, J Cronin, S Cronin, R Diack, C Healy, J Heaslip, I Henderson, M McCarthy, J McGrath, M Moore, J Murphy, S O'Brien, P O'Connell (capt), T O'Donnell, P O'Mahony, M Ross, D Ryan, R Strauss, D Toner, N White.

Backs: I Boss, T Bowe, D Cave, G D'Arcy, K Earls, L Fitzgerald, R Henshaw, F Jones, D Kearney, R Kearney, I Keatley, I Madigan, K Marmion, C Murray, J Payne, E Reddan, J Sexton, S Zebo.

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