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Jacob Stockdale could return during Six Nations while Ireland coach says 'fit and raring' Iain Henderson would boost any side in world rugby



Jacob Stockdale is expected to return after the opening two games of the Six Nations while Iain Henderson will be assessed ahead of the trip to Wales.

Jacob Stockdale is expected to return after the opening two games of the Six Nations while Iain Henderson will be assessed ahead of the trip to Wales.

Jacob Stockdale is expected to return after the opening two games of the Six Nations while Iain Henderson will be assessed ahead of the trip to Wales.

Ireland coach Andy Farrell is hopeful of welcoming Jacob Stockdale into his panel midway through the Six Nations.

The Ulster star was left out of the squad announcement ahead of the tournament opener in Wales on Saturday week (February 7).

The nature of the release left it unclear whether Stockdale was being ruled out for the entirety of the tournament or just the opening games.

However, coach Andy Farrell has now clarified that the 24-year-old will play no part in the first two games but then may return from bone bruising on his knee, sustained in Ulster's win over Munster, in time for the Championship conclusion.

Ireland host France a week after their trip to Wales and then face free weeks either side of the game in Italy, before back-to-back ties in Scotland and at home to England.

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"He is progressing well," the Ireland head coach explained of Stockdale's situation, speaking at the virtual tournament launch.

"It's nothing too serious, but he has a bit of bone bruising I understand in his knee, and bone bruising tends to take a bit of time to settle down.

"We understand that he probably won't be available for the first two games and hopefully, fingers crossed, everything going well he's back up and running and available midway through the competition."

Captain Johnny Sexton admitted Stockdale would be a big loss to the side.

"Jacob not being here is a blow, as it would be to any squad," the out-half insisted.

"But we've got some good guys in the back three who have been playing really well. It's disappointing for Jacob, I haven't had a chance to catch up with him yet. I was texting him before we were due to play Ulster, seeing if he was going to be playing in that game.

"I didn't think it was too bad at the time so it was a shock to me that he missed out with injury, but hopefully he'll be back soon. He's a top quality player and a guy that can make a big difference."

Ulster captain Iain Henderson, meanwhile, will be assessed ahead of the opening trip to Cardiff, having not played since suffering knee ligament damage in Ireland's last game at home to Scotland at the start of December.

"Get fit, get back on the park and get back to your best rugby," said coach Farrell, of his plea to the man who, according to former team-mate Sean O'Brien, makes Ireland 'tick'.

"We know exactly what he can do when he is at his best. Any team in the world would want a fit and raring Iain Henderson so we'll see how he comes back into camp, assess how he goes in the 12 days leading up to the Wales game and hopefully we can get him back up to speed as soon as possible."

Ireland skipper Sexton has eased concerns surrounding his own fitness ahead the game in Wales.

He was forced off with what Leinster described as a “minor muscle injury” during last weekend's win over Munster, but the out-half has allayed fears that he could miss the start of the tournament.

"Anytime that you get a little niggle like that it's very frustrating because I did a lot of work over the last four or five weeks, trained hard to make sure that didn't happen, and it did (happen) at the time that I didn't want it to happen, which is somewhat typical," Sexton said regarding his injury.

"But listen, it's not major. Hopefully I'll be back training by the end of the week, and hopefully I'll be fit for the Wales game.

"It can be frustrating when you pick up these things, but it is a tough game to get through now. I was in a good place before the Munster game and picked up a niggle, so I won't let it get me down too much.

"Just get back on the horse, get back training hard this week and hopefully be firing next week."

Ireland are optimistic that Tadhg Furlong (calf) and James Lowe (groin) will also be available for selection for the first game.

Furlong is expected to feature for Leinster against the Scarlets on Saturday, as the Lions prop gets set to play his first game in almost a year out.

"I suppose there's a natural progression that needs to happen for Tadhg himself to be physically and mentally right and to earn the right to be available for Wales, so we'll see how this week plays out,” Farrell maintained.

"Speaking to Tadhg yesterday, he had a great day, he was feeling good, fit and strong, meeting all the requirements, hitting great markers etc.

"He feels in good spirits so hopefully we get him through to the end of the week and get some minutes under his belt for Leinster, if selected, and then the plan would be all going well that he'll come back into camp on Sunday with us and gets a full week's lead-in and we can assess where he's at."

Lowe is in a similar boat as the winger looks to overcome a groin injury, which has hampered him for the last few weeks.

"Again, like Tadhg he's progressing really well," Farrell continued.

"All the guys that have been selected are at a stage where they're progressing and like everyone, like Johnny here for himself, there are a few protocols that a few lads have to get through this week.

"Hopefully come the weekend the news is going to be good on that front and we'll have a straightforward week into Wales."

Belfast Telegraph