Sexton and Gilroy look fit to face the Italians
Lock Donnacha Ryan is now Ireland’s biggest injury concern
Craig Gilroy during Ireland training at Carton House on Tuesday. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
With the presence of Warren Gatland putting a pep in everybody’s step, Jonny Sexton and Craig Gilroy trained fully with the Irish squad yesterday and although Brian O’Driscoll and Luke Marshall did not do any contact work, the expectation is that all of this quartet will train again tomorrow before flying out to the Eternal City.
This will be welcome news for the Irish management before they go into conclave to announce the team to face Italy tomorrow for Saturday’s concluding Six Nations match at the Stadio Olimpico. Donnacha Ryan looks to be their biggest concern, giving his ongoing shoulder problems, with Devin Toner having trained in his place yesterday and seemingly the likeliest to be promoted if Ryan is ruled out.
Gilroy’s return offsets the loss of Fergus McFadden, and the Ulster winger sounded confident of adding to his four caps this weekend. “I worked hard the last week and a half and did a lot of rehab and a lot of work with the physios. I didn’t think I’d be back to be honest but I ran today and felt really good and I’d love to be involved.”
So good are the facilities at the Carton House that the Lions will be based here for a week from May 17th and Gatland’s presence, albeit purely in a watching brief, sharpened training. “It’s hard not to see the coach of the Lions over on the sideline,” noted Rob Kearney, and the return of Sexton and Gilroy was also a contributory factor for what the fullback described as a “really sharp” session.
Kearney’s performance against France was probably his best of the Six Nations to date, only his seventh game since a back operation, on top of which conditions and less kicking to him have demanded that he be more patient.
“I realise that my own game is not in any way setting the word alight. I’m fully aware of that, but I’ve always said my sole objective is just to be really consistent and try and stay as error-free as possible. Once you start forcing the game, that’s when errors start to creep in. As a fullback, that has to be your primary role: that you limit as many errors as possible.”
He also believes he would be “playing a dangerous game” if he were to start thinking about playing himself into Lions contention. “And I genuinely mean that; I’m not just giving you a party line that you have to focus on the now and your country and so on. You do.”
While he believes form over the last year or more matters too, he added: “I always remember and we spoke about it at the start, when we won the Grand Slam four years ago there were 15 Irish guys on it. Generally the team who wins the championship has the best representation.”
As he well knows, Kearney’s Lions rivals at fullback, Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Goode and Stuart Hogg have all been having strong campaigns, besides which, in a roundabout way, the loss of Richie Gray through injury may heighten the candidature of Hogg and other Scots.
“Yeah of course you’re conscious of the other guys and you’re looking out for them, too. It’s always there at the back of your mind and to be honest it’s a difficult thing not to think about. Guys who tell you they’re not thinking about it are probably telling you fibs.”
One more big game, by player and team alike, on Saturday would help no end. Kearney says he and the team are excited by the idea of playing in the 74,000 capacity Stadio Olimpico, all the more so knowing there’ll be a sizeable St Patrick’s Day Irish invasion.
In style too, the Azzurri will provide an altogether different challenge. “For me that’s the one difference between this Italian side and Italian sides that back through the years; they are really comfortable with ball in hand. They’ll play for 10, 12, 15 phases whereas in years gone by they would have been guilty for kicking silly ball away and when they got up into the 22 they’d take quite a few drop goal opportunities as opposed to looking for that try.”
“I think it’s good for everyone to finally see now that Italy are a team that can genuinely compete rather than us saying it to press conferences and the media, and people not really believing us. It’s nice now that people will recognise that they are a quality team.”