Rob Kearney in fitness race as big guns target Italy
Rugby World Cup 2015: Full-back unlikely to train until later this week but Henshaw looks ready to return for Ireland
Rob Kearney did not train with Ireland at their Surrey base yesterday and appears increasingly likely to miss Sunday's meeting with Italy after scans showed he strained his glute muscle in scoring a try against Romania.
The full-back is unlikely to train fully with the team this morning in Guildford and that makes him a major doubt to face the Azzurri given Joe Schmidt's record of not picking players who don't participate in sessions early in the week.
Simon Zebo, who wore the No 15 jersey on Sunday, returned to the camp last night after visiting home on compassionate leave due to the death of his grandfather.
Forwards coach Simon Easterby signalled the management's intent to field as strong a team as possible for the pivotal Pool D game. Robbie Henshaw, Iain Henderson, Johnny Sexton and Peter O'Mahony are available for selection, while Keith Earls passed his final concussion test and Jordi Murphy is recovering from dead leg.
"Rob has a mild strain in his glute and we're hopeful that he'll be taking part in training this week at some stage. Not today, but it's not as bad as we feared so we're happy," Easterby said. "Training during the week is very important to us, but we'd look to give players the best opportunity to make themselves available and then you have to make your call at some point."
The Italians welcomed Sergio Parisse back into their squad yesterday, but the talismanic Stade Francais No 8 will have to pass two fitness tests if he is to be available for Sunday's game.
As for Ireland, who changed 12 between their wins over Canada and Romania, Easterby is confident the strongest team can handle the workload in the weeks to come.
"We will be trying to get the best available 15 out on the pitch," he said. "Then the forwards will come under a fair bit of workload against the Italians and against the French but you'd like to think we can back that up over the next couple of weeks."