Murray Kinsella reports from Monaghan RFC
JOE SCHMIDT SAYS Johnny Sexton has hit all his markers so far as he looks to prove his fitness ahead of Ireland’s Six Nations clash with France in Dublin on 25 February.
The Ireland head coach also says he is “quietly confident” that fullback Rob Kearney will recover from a bicep injury in order to feature in the fixture against les Bleus, while Peter O’Mahony, Iain Henderson and Andrew Trimble are all back in full training after injury.
Scrum-half Conor Murray sat out Ireland’s open session in Monaghan today, but Schmidt stressed that it was a case of managing the Munster man’s workload.
19 players trained fully for Ireland today, with Sexton and Kearney both undergoing rehab work separately on their respective calf and bicep injuries.
Nigel Carolan’s Ireland U20s provided opposition for Schmidt’s men in a well-contested and well-attended session at Monaghan RFC.
Speaking afterwards, Schmidt indicated that despite Sexton going through his own session on the back pitch and not being involved in the team training at all, the out-half is still on track to be fit to face France.
“He’s hitting all his markers, he ran well today,” said Schmidt. “It’s an incremental thing, as long as you keep hitting your markers. So he did some high-speed running today, he’ll do some volume running over the weekend, and then he should be fit to go in and out of training on Monday and then train fully on Tuesday.
“Those are the markers he’s got to hit and he’s hit them comfortably so far. We’re not trying to over-accelerate that, we’re being a little bit cautious and, therefore, we’ll know by Thursday. If he completes training on Tuesday, we know that he’s set to go.”
Last weekend, Schmidt had stated that Sexton would “definitely” be fit to face France, although he did slightly row back today in admitting that some uncertainty remains.
“There always is,” said Schmidt. “There’s a small amount of uncertainty around Iain Henderson and Peter O’Mahony, but now that they’ve trained fully and the nature of training today, we’d be really super-confident that they are set to go. They both trained really well.
“Andrew Trimble trained really well today as well, so we are starting to get those guys back. Johnny is maybe three or four days behind them, that’s all. We’d be very hopeful that we’ll get that as well.”
Meanwhile, Kearney went through an individual session that involved kicking, catching, passing and running, with no contact work.
There had been fears that the fullback might miss the rest of the Six Nations with the bicep tendon injury he suffered in the win against Italy last weekend, but Schmidt said Kearney may be ready to feature against the French.
“Again, he’s hitting all his markers. We’re probably quietly confident there, more than overtly confident, but as long as he keeps going in the direction he’s going, we’d hope that he’ll take a full part in training on Tuesday.
“We’ll get confidence from that, he’ll get confidence from that and then we can roll into Thursday and into the match on Saturday, hopefully.
“He’s got a tendon injury just at the base of the bicep, so it’s one of those things that we’ve just got to see how it reacts to all the demands that he will have of his bicep.”
Captain Rory Best, who missed the Italy game due to illness, was back in full training at Monaghan and Schmidt said it was good to have Ireland’s leader fully integrated again.
Scrum-half Murray wasn’t involved in the session at all, watching on from the sidelines in his tracksuit, but Schmidt indicated that it was simply to give the 27-year-old a break in order to heal various bumps and bruises.
“Conor accumulates a few things as time goes on. It’s not often that he gets through a game where he doesn’t get knocked off the ball, or as he reaches in to the get the ball that he doesn’t get someone coming through and making contact with him.
“We knew that today would be a little physical, the U20s take every opportunity to put it up to us!
“It was ideal for Conor to step out. I thought Kieran Marmion came on against Italy and did really well. He maintained the tempo and maybe even upped the tempo, because he’s so sharp. We wanted to integrate him a bit more today and it was the perfect opportunity to do that.”
Marmion will now head back to Connacht to start in tomorrow’s Guinness Pro12 clash with the Dragons in Galway, despite being fully involved in a high-tempo training session today in Monaghan.
The remainder of the players present at Monaghan RFC will not feature for their provinces over the weekend.
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