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Italy v Ireland Six Nations: Gilroy steps up as Irish ready to roar

By Jonathan Bradley

Marginal fitness calls have cost two Ulster players their place in the Ireland squad to face Italy in the Stadio Olimpico tomorrow (2.25pm kick-off) after Joe Schmidt made three changes from the defeat to Scotland that opened the Six Nations campaign.

Ulster captain Andrew Trimble developed a groin niggle in training before the championship, and was just unable to prove his fitness in time for this weekend's trip to Rome.

Iain Henderson, meanwhile, has lost his place after the Murrayfield loss due to a minor hamstring strain.

And while Tommy Bowe has been returned to Ulster having featured off the bench a week ago, his provincial team-mate Craig Gilroy has been handed the number 23 jersey.

Captain Rory Best and out-half Paddy Jackson round out the Ulster contingent in the travelling party.

"(Trimble) is so close but if you try to push someone back early, you take the risk of causing further problems," said Schmidt, outlining his selection dilemma.

"Simon (Zebo) and Keith (Earls) get another opportunity to impress and they're both keen to avail of it."

Offering further explanation of his decision to bring Gilroy into the panel at the expense of Bowe, Schmidt said he thought the Monaghan man had been unfortunate during his brief return to the national fold in Edinburgh.

"Bowe was unlucky when he came on against Scotland," added the Kiwi coach.

"He faced an overlap which we should have dealt with further up the field.

"He took a great line at one stage and Josh (van der Flier) took his space.

"He didn't quite get into the game but hopefully he'll get some game time with Ulster.

"Craig was with us in South Africa and has worked incredibly hard."

Donnacha Ryan had a knee injury of his own to contend with last week but is fit enough to take the place of Henderson in the engine room.

"Iain picked up a slight tweak the last day and while he won't make Saturday, he should be fine, so Donnacha comes in and he's a good line-out operator, a good technician in that area, and will bring a great work-rate too."

Schmidt is also confident that both Johnny Sexton and Peter O'Mahony will be back in time to take the field against France in Dublin when the competition resumes after a one week break on February 25.

For now, the focus is on making a much better start in Rome than they managed in Edinburgh.

Ireland were sluggish from the off against the Scots, trailing 21-5 at one point in the first-half, with Schmidt once again addressing the issue of a delay to the team bus in arriving after a re-route by local police.

Schmidt said the rush to get a full warm-up sparked anxiety in his players that he hopes won't be repeated this time around.

"I think we are incredibly disappointed by the way we started last weekend," he said.

"I don't think it was apathy. There was a bit of anxiety at not having the full period to warm up.

"Players get anxious. They get very routine based.

"We were very disappointed with how we started.

"I don't feel that we are playing catch up entirely.

"One of the great things about this championship is that as long as we can keep getting better we can potentially stay in control of our own destiny.

"So we are not going to get too carried away and chase things that we don't immediately have to.

"We are focused on this immediate challenge and trying to do the best we can," commented Schmidt.

With such importance placed on the quarter of an hour or so lost to Edinburgh traffic, Schmidt added that no special arrangements would be made with police in Rome, not a city known for being commuter friendly.

"I think that was just a one-off anomaly," he said.

"I think it is good to have to deal with those distractions because they will happen at other tournaments."

Belfast Telegraph


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