CHRIS FARRELL APPEARS to be in pole position to start alongside Bundee Aki when Ireland’s Six Nations campaign resumes against Wales in 11 days’ time.
The Munster centre impressed in tandem with Aki against Argentina in November and was one of three standby players warming up with the matchday 23 before the win over Italy.
Joe Schmidt will take somewhere in the region of 22 players to Athlone for this week’s training camp. And after shoulder surgery was signalled for Robbie Henshaw, Farrell and the currently-sidelined Garry Ringrose appear the most likely to wear the 13 jersey against Warren Gatland’s men.
Ringrose is scheduled to remain with his province this week as he aims to step up his recovery from an ankle injury. Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster reports that the 23-year-old centre is ‘close’ to a return and is reluctant to call round three of the Six Nations too soon, but the 23 February meeting with the Southern Kings would appear a more natural fit for a step back in the competitive arena than a full-pace Test against Wales on 24 February.
“I think the sensible thing is for everyone to get game time, so we’ve got Kings coming round the corner,” Lancaster said as Leinster announced a partnership with the Intercontinental Hotel yesterday.
He hasn’t actually trained with the team yet. He’s done work on the side of the pitch – he certainly seems to be running well on the side of the pitch – he hasn’t actually changed direction, made decisions in the moment.
“So once he takes that step, we’ll all have a better idea of where he’s going to be.”
The former England coach added: “It’s been such a hugely frustrating season for him because the shoulder injury, compounded by the ankle injury.
“He’s certainly got the quality (to go straight in against Wales), but that will be Joe’s call. He knows how quickly he can get up to speed in the Ireland camp.
“From our point of view, he’ll be back in the mix sooner rather than later. Obviously Ireland will pick him when he’s ready.”
With no full team training sessions under his belt until Thursday at the earliest, an international in less than a fortnight does not sound likely for Ringrose.
“If he’s come through (Monday’s training and) there’s been no reaction, he could train with our team on Thursday. It would be too close for him to play Saturday (against Scarlets). Then the following week, we’ll see how he goes.”
Meanwhile, there are similarly blurred lines around the potential return dates for Robbie Henshaw, though they are certainly much further down the track than they are for Ringrose.
The IRFU medical report yesterday confirmed Henshaw would be out for the remainder of the Six Nations, and Lancaster didn’t cut an optimistic figure when asked about the likelihood of the Westmeath man being back in time to face Saracens in the Champions Cup quarter-final.
“I haven’t spoken to Robbie at all. I think he’s gone straight from camp to see the specialist.
“I don’t know is the honest answer. Obviously he’s out of the Six Nations and with the Saracens game being two weeks after the Six Nations – Ireland play England, we play Ospreys and then it’s Saracens. So the reality is, it’s going to be tight.”
There was better, and more concrete, news on wing Adam Byrne and hooker James Tracy who look set to make their injury return on Saturday in the first of two crucial Pro14 Conference A meetings with Scarlets in the weeks ahead.
Leinster may go into that match with a contingent who spent some of their preparation time in Ireland colours, including Joey Carbery who Schmidt has suggested may get some out-half minutes this coming weekend, so there is a balance to be struck against the champions.
“(As an international coach) you would tend to want to go into camp with your starters from the previous week and your likely starters of the third Six Nations game, maybe keep one or two of the bench who you know are important and maybe release one or two back to get some game-time. It works well.
“From a club point of view, now the shoe is on the other foot for me. We’ll just wait and see who we get back and work from there. If we didn’t get any players back we’d roll out the same team we played this week (against Edinburgh).
“That will play out in the next 24 hours once Joe makes his final call on who is going to be in camp and who’s not.
“And then we’ll just react on the back of it, but we’ve got plenty of good players and the lads who come back in will be able to slot back in and get up to speed straight away.”