Boost for injury-ravaged Ireland as Sexton is cleared to return

IRB protocols for concussion to be adhered

Ireland Rugby Squad Training, Carton House, Maynooth, Co. Kildare 11/3/2013Jonathan Sexton during today's trainingMandatory Credit �INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan

Ireland Rugby Squad Training, Carton House, Maynooth, Co. Kildare 11/3/2013Jonathan Sexton during today's trainingMandatory Credit �INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan


The latest glut of injuries in camp Ireland have been offset by Jonathan Sexton being declared “fully fit to train” today after completing four weeks of rehabilitation on a grade two hamstring tear.

The usual recovery period is four to six weeks. Saturday’s match at the Stadio Olimpico will come 34 days after Sexton pulled up lame during the 12-6 defeat to England.

Craig Gilroy will also resume full contact, after a groin strain, and is due to replace his replacement on the right wing, Fergus McFadden, who is ruled out with a fractured rib. Fullback Robbie Henshaw and centre Darren Cave return to the training squad after concussion, having both been rested for at least two weeks, a luxury that’s not expected to be afforded Brian O’Driscoll or Luke Marshall.

The new Irish midfield partnership will adhere to the IRB protocols with regards head trauma this week. That’s the main reason for Declan Kidney postponing team selection until Thursday.

Marshall sustained a concussion on Saturday from a French player clearing a ruck, while O’Driscoll was hurt tackling 19 stone Clermont prop Vincent Debaty.
Body on the line
“I asked him why he wanted to tackle Debaty twice in a row – I thought he had more smarts than that,” joked attack coach Les Kiss at yesterday’s media briefing in Carton House. “But, look, he is a warrior, he puts his body on the line week in, week out. We all know that.

“It’s amazing what he does pull from his reserves all the time, so I’ve no doubt he’s going to do everything right to be there at the weekend.

“He’s not talking like he isn’t going to be there at the moment, he’s talking like he’s going to be there, that’s for sure.”

In order to play against Italy, O’Driscoll and Marshall must match the scores they registered on a cognitive test in the pre-season (when they weren’t concussed). They can re-do the test until they pass.

The IRB rules state: “If a Medical Practitioner (with the assistance of a healthcare professional, as applicable) is managing the recovery of the player it is possible for the player to return to play after a minimum of six days having successfully followed and completed each stage of the Graduated Return To Play protocol.”

O’Driscoll’s other injuries, stitches to a lacerated ear and a dead leg, rather than ankle damage as initially feared, are also expected to clear up.

Looking at the other additions to the squad – Declan Fitzpatrick, Devin Toner, Robbie Diack, Andrew Trimble, Tommy O’Donnell and Ulster scrumhalf Paul Marshall – O’Driscoll is deemed the inside centre option should Luke Marshall fail to recover.

Other Kidney favourites like Gordon D’Arcy, Dave McSharry and Paddy Wallace are injured.
Current group
Kiss confirmed that all positions will be covered from within the current group. That means Paul Marshall will make the match-day squad for the first time, as Eoin Reddan ’s replacement. The other major worry, Donnacha Ryan’s damaged A/C joint, will be covered by Toner’s promotion to the bench and Donncha O’Callaghan to the team.

The alternative would be to use Iain Henderson as lock cover and name O’Donnell or Diack as the backrow reserve.

All told, Kidney will be dipping deep into his 40-strong reserve list, prompting the question that Irish players are suffering as much due to their genetic make-up than anything else.

Basically, the English and French in particular are significantly bigger specimens.

“Certainly it’s the biggest (injury list) I’ve been involved with, no doubt,” Kiss continued. “But there is also just an unwavering belief and commitment from the guys to not lean on that.

“We certainly do have to play big teams but we have to build our game around what our strengths are. We have to go into a game and be able to fight in the trenches, and negate what is sometimes a size disadvantage. And I think we do a fantastic job of it and across the board from our forwards through our backs they do not lack in anything I’ve seen bigger teams have.
Deserve a break
“To tell you the truth, I’d rather have what we got here. I just think they deserve a break and I hope they get it this weekend, I hope they get the result.

“Every team has different struggles in different ways. This is our struggle at the moment. Struggle is not the right word, it is our challenge.

“It’s not like we are bleating about it, it is what it is. It could’ve fallen off in a really bad way, we were right on the edge of victories, you couldn’t have asked for more from them. They have been brilliant.”

Meanwhile, veteran prop Martin Castrogiovanni and flanker Robert Barbieri are Italy’s injury concerns ahead of Saturday.