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O'Connell set to assume Irish captaincy as he clears another fitness hurdle

Declan Fitzpatrick is back in Belfast, meaning Michael Bent is in line for matchday 23 inclusion.

Paul O'Connell goes full-on in training.
Paul O'Connell goes full-on in training.
Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

IRELAND SKILLS COACH Mark Tainton has given rugby supporters across the island some welcome respite by suggesting Paul O’Connell and Cian Healy will be fit to play South Africa on Saturday.

The news on Declan Fitzpatrick, however, is not as positive. The Ulster prop has returned to Belfast after failing to recover from his concussion.

“Paul responded well this morning,” Tainton told TheScore.ie, ”and he took a full part in training and took in all aspects of it – scrummaging, lineouts, contact, everything.

“It’s promising but we have to wait, obviously now, 24 hours to see what the reaction is but, for now, everything is looking good.”

Munster teammate Donnacha Ryan said, “Paul is a fantastic player with great leadership qualities and every time he’s training with us, he raises the standards and the intensity. It’s great to have him out there.

“You’d like to have all the best players available to you so it’s great for the management that they have more difficulties in picking the team.”

Tainton revealed that medical treatment on O’Connell’s troublesome back has been ongoing since he joined up with the Ireland squad but the results were beginning to be seen.

“Whatever they’ve done in there seems to have done the trick because he’s flying in there,” he said.

It’s good to have Paul in the side, no matter what side goes out. He’s one of the leaders we have out there within the team. Johnny [Sexton] and ROG [Ronan O'Gara] are both leaders with their provinces and you have D’Arce [Gordon D'Arcy] in there now.

“If Paul isn’t ready, we’re happy with what we’ll have out there.”

One prop fit, another goes home

Healy was another of Ireland’s injury worries that, according to Tainton, came through a full training session, at Carton House, unscathed.

“He finished up doing live scrummaging,” Tainton said. “There were three-on-three and five-on-five and they were going hard at it for a good period.

“He’s come through that and it’s all looking good with him.”

When asked about Fitzpatrick, Tainton commented, “Declan’s not with us at the moment. He trained last week with us and then, travelling back to Belfast he had to go to a concussion test and, obviously, didn’t get through it.

“He’s still being assessed at the moment.”

The loss of the tighthead prop has dramatically shortened the odds of Irish-qualified New Zealander Michael Bent taking his place on the bench at the Aviva Stadium as the go-to replacement for Mike Ross.

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Patrick McCarry

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