Joey Carbery is back in full training and thus in line to be fully fit for Ireland's opening 2022 Six Nations game against Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday February 5th.
The Munster outhalf has been sidelined since the Champions Cup win over Wasps in Coventry on December 12th when suffering a fractured elbow after a late hit. But Andy Farrell has confirmed that Carbery, who was man of the match in Ireland's last Test against Argentina in November, has fully recovered and is taking part in contact work prior to the squad's departure to Portugal tomorrow for a six-day training camp.
“Joey has been keeping fighting fit from week two after his injury to his elbow, so he’s fit as a fiddle. He has been doing all the ball skills, etc. constantly and the only thing he has had to wait is to get the all-clear to get back into contact and he’s had that now so it’s all systems go.”
The Irish head coach also expects the Leinster quartet of Tadhg Furlong James Ryan, Josh van der Flier and Jordan Larmour to be available for the Welsh game with only Iain Henderson - who hasn't played since injuring his ankle in Ulster's win over Northampton on December 17th - a doubt as thing stand.
“To sum it up, we expect everyone bar Iain Henderson to be training fully with us by the end of the week. That’s not to say he’s out of the Wales game yet. We’ll take it day by day and see how we go.”
Ireland go into the Six Nations on the back of eight-consecutive wins, the highlight being the autumn victory over New Zealand, but Farrell believes there is still plenty of room for development in his team.
“It’s very easy to find scope for growth. You can look at all areas of your game and you’ll always dissect it. If you dissect it and be honest with yourself you’ll see how to do things better.
“In the scheme of things you can look at the results and think everything went swimmingly, but in reality, it didn’t. We’re so far away from November now as well, we’re onto the next thing, analysing it and trying to get better. This is no different, at the start of a new competition that means a lot to everyone. We’ve got to be improving constantly to make sure we’re in with a chance.”
That unbeaten Autumn Series marked the beginning of “a pretty exciting journey” to the next World Cup, although the Six Nations as ever will be an entity in itself.
“The Six Nations always takes its own course and it’s always very unpredictable but it’s the place we want to be. If you look at the Six Nations, having the champions at home in the first game is unbelievably challenging and exciting at the same time.
“Going to Paris and going to Twickenham, then playing the last game at home, it’s where we want to be. We want it to be as tough as it possibly can because we keep finding out about ourselves.
“We go to New Zealand at the end of the season and then kick on again. That will all help us progress to the World Cup.”
The two countries come into this fixture to the all too familiar backdrop of the Irish provinces performing well in Europe and their counterparts in the regions making negligible impact, not least last season when Wales won in Cardiff on the opening weekend.
“We all know the truth, we all know how the Welsh come together,” said Farrell. “They’re a proud rugby nation and they certainly lift when they come together. They have some world class players within their side that will push them on to be their brimming best in a couple of Saturdays’ time.”
Even wiser to this historical trend, Johnny Sexton concurred.
“To be honest it has no correlation to how the Six Nations starts. I could rewind five or six years ago when we had this exact same conversation about the Irish provinces flying and the Welsh struggling, and they beat us. There’s never a correlation between international performance and provincial.
“When we’re in the Irish environment we put on one jersey and we’re one team and we leave our provinces at the door. The team that are reigning champions; I’m a bit surprised by the question considering they had such a successful Six Nations last year, a couple of minutes away from a Grand Slam and had a great November as well. We’re playing the champions and that’s what we have on our minds.”
Sexton has also mastered the ability to hit the ground running after lay-offs, and has played 84 minutes in Leinster’s romps against Montpellier and Bath over the last two weeks, albeit he revealed he contracted Covid during his previous enforced absence since the win over New Zealand.
“My body is okay, I had a frustrating couple of months, post the New Zealand game with injuries. I managed to pick up Covid as well so that knocked me for 10 days to two weeks so it was not an ideal prep.
But thankfully over the last few weeks I was able to step up in training and get back on the field unscathed.”
“I was back from the knee injury ready to go and then obviously picked it up and was sick for a week or so with it. Then obviously it takes a little bit longer time to get back fully fit, a couple of games were cancelled.
“The first game back was a European game so I blew the lungs out on that. It was a shock to the system but I felt much better last week and hopefully now we’ll train hard this week and it will be another good step in my preparation and I know I need to train well to earn my place in the team and that’s more my focus is getting as fit and ready as possible to challenge for that spot.”