Conor Murray and Dave Kearney passed fit for Six Nations opener against Italy
Schmidt still looking for best centre pairing since departure of O’Driscoll last season
Ireland’s Conor Murray in action: the scrumhalf has been passed fit to play against Italy in Rome this Saturday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
Murray trained fully last Friday despite a neck problem while Kearney’s shoulder has sufficiently healed after Ashley Johnson’s midair tackle on January 24th earned the Wasps backrow a three-week suspension.
Still, as precautionary measure factoring in Eoin Reddan’s fitness, four scrumhalves are included among the 38 players crammed into Carton House last night. Following illness, Luke Fitzgerald will train this morning as the Leinster wingers put pressure on incumbent number eleven Simon Zebo.
“Jack Conan and Michael Bent did well against the Saxons but will return to Leinster, as will Noel Reid who was restricted to a brief cameo as he was covering a number of positions,” said Joe Schmidt via email. “Rob Herring returns to Ulster and will look forward to having an opportunity for further game time.”
O’Brien played 50 minutes, having an immediate impact at the breakdown to put himself firmly into consideration for this weekend.The backrow make-up depends on how much progress the coaches’ feel O’Brien has made after only returning to training two weeks ago. Jordi Murphy, Tommy O’Donnell and Dominic Ryan are the other contenders for openside or backrow cover.
Reddan (knee) and Jamie Heaslip (shoulder) are said to be “progressing well and are likely to be available to train fully on Tuesday” while Cian Healy “continues to make very promising progress post his hamstring injury.”
Still, as clearly intended, the squad size makes it impossible to predict more than eight of Saturday’s starting XV with any degree of certainty.
Rob Kearney will play fullback, Tommy Bowe on the right wing, Murray at scrumhalf, Peter O’Mahony on the blindside flank, Paul O’Connell in the second row, probably with Devin Toner as Henderson covers lock and six, Rory Best at hooker and Jack McGrath on the loosehead side of the scrum.
Heaslip is the unimpeachable number eight but Leinster’s captain sustained the injury in early January that has required continual treatment and early withdrawal from three games.
Centre conundrumDarren CaveLuke MarshallShaun PayneRobbie Henshaw
The waters are muddied further by Ian Madigan’s playing 12, ahead of D’Arcy, at Leinster.
That Jonathan Sexton is not being considered might give D’Arcy a reprieve but Payne and Henshaw were Schmidt’s initial first choice until Payne got hurt against South Africa.
Ian Keatley or Madigan will wear number ten.