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Murray fit for Ireland opener


Ballymena must beat Queen's to preserve their title hopes

Ballymena must beat Queen's to preserve their title hopes

Ballymena must beat Queen's to preserve their title hopes

Conor Murray has been passed fit for Ireland's RBS 6 Nations opener against Italy in Rome.

The British and Irish Lions scrum-half has battled neck trouble for the last month but is back in full training and ready to start Saturday's Stadio Olimpico clash.

Ireland team manager Mick Kearney admitted "some small doubt" over number eight Jamie Heaslip, who is carrying a shoulder injury.

Fit-again Sean O'Brien is fit to face the Italians if required, though Ireland may choose not to risk the combative flanker who is finally past 14 months of shoulder problems.

Cian Healy remains in line to return from a long-term hamstring injury to face France in round two, with Johnny Sexton expecting the all-clear on Thursday for the Dublin clash with Les Bleus on Valentine's Day.

"Conor Murray trained well on Friday and he progressed to full contact training," said Kearney.

"He has seen a specialist, we had an open training session in the Aviva (Stadium) on Friday and Conor took a full part in that.

"There was some minor contact in that session but he came through it really well, and we would expect that Conor would be available for selection."

Munster scrum-half Murray's fitness will be a clear boost when Ireland launch the defence of their Six Nations crown against the Azzurri this weekend.

Only last week boss Joe Schmidt was sweating on injuries to both front-line scrum-halves - Murray and Leinster's Eoin Reddan - but now both could face Italy.

Racing Metro fly-half Sexton will miss Saturday's tournament opener as he completes his enforced 12-week lay-off after a string of concussions.

Ireland bosses expect the Lions playmaker to receive the all-clear in time to train fully next week, in a bid to return against France on February 14.

"Jamie Heaslip continues to rehab his shoulder and we are hopeful that he'll train fully tomorrow," said Kearney.

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"I would say there's probably some small doubt about him, but he's recovered really well.

"Jamie being the professional athlete that he is, he really does look after his body extremely well and would have worked on it over the weekend.

"So I suppose the next day or two will tell a lot, but there would be a small degree of doubt about him, maybe, yes.

"We are hopeful Cian Healy will return to full training at some stage this week.

"Depending on how he goes this week, if he comes through some tests he will be allowed to train fully for the rest of the week.

"I suppose if that happens with Cian, given the athlete that he is, I would expect that he would be in consideration for the French game, yes.

"Eoin Reddan is making good progress from a knee ligament injury and we're hopeful that he'll train tomorrow also. Jonathan Sexton is seeing his neurologist in Paris on Thursday.

"I must say he's been in camp all last week, he's trained really well, very focused, taking a full part except for the full contact.

"So he'll see his neurologist on Thursday, hopefully he'll get a clean bill of health and it will be all systems go for the following week."

Wing Dave Kearney is expected to be fit for selection against Italy despite suffering a nasty shoulder injury in Leinster's 20-20 Champions Cup draw with Wasps on January 24.

Lock Mike McCarthy has not been ruled out of the Italy clash despite suffering a heavy concussion in Friday night's Ireland Wolfhounds match, while Luke Fitzgerald has recovered from illness.

Ireland team boss Kearney also confirmed flanker O'Brien came through the Wolfhounds clash unscathed.

"Sean came through really well, he's a little stiff and sore as you'd expect after his first game back in, what, six months and going straight into a pretty competitive international-type match," said Kearney.

"But he came through it really well, he's in good form and he's really happy to be back obviously in the mix."

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