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Double fitness boost for Ireland

Ireland finally received some positive news on the injury front on Tuesday when it was revealed Paul O'Connell and Cian Healy are winning their fitness battles.

The forward pair were a doubt for Saturday's Guinness Series opener against South Africa at Lansdowne Road due to their respective back and shoulder problems.

But they took a full part in training and should be available to face the Springboks.

With established internationals Brian O'Driscoll, Sean O'Brien, Stephen Ferris, Rob Kearney and Rory Best already ruled out, Ireland could ill-afford any further losses.

"Paul trained fully today and did everything in training - scrum, line-out and contact," assistant coach Mark Tainton said.

"We'll see what happens over the next 24 hours but we don't envisage any reaction to what he did today. It's looking good from his side.

"Cian did a full session today and there were no problems with his shoulder during a live scrummaging session. He showed full power."

O'Connell is the leading candidate to lead the team in O'Driscoll's absence, although Ireland have yet to confirm he is captain.

Leinster playmaker Jonathan Sexton has been touted as a possible alternative and Tainton is confident he would be able to shoulder the extra responsibility.

"A fly-half's role is to lead the team anyway. Goalkicking and punting are just a part of his job," he said. "I wouldn't see it being a burden to take on the captaincy as well."

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