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Joe Schmidt expects to have Paul O'Connell back for Wales clash

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Joe Schmidt last night admitted his relief at being able to face into Saturday's pivotal clash with Wales without any fresh injury concerns.

The Ireland coach presided over his first Six Nations win at Lansdowne Road yesterday but things will step up a notch in five days time when the reigning champions visit Dublin after a day extra's recovery from their win over Italy.

Although Paul O'Connell missed out after suffering a chest infection on the morning of yesterday's match, Schmidt fully expects to have his captain available this weekend. Gordon D'Arcy, Mike McCarthy, Luke Fitzgerald and Eoin Reddan could all come back into the mix.

"It's massive," he said of the clean bill of health. "One of the worst things about trying to manage a six-day turnaround is uncertainty. You're not sure if this guy's going to start or not, he's valuable to you.

"You're trying to get the right complement in the tight or in the back row or wherever and it's just trying to get that balance. At least you can plan with a little bit more certainty and the players know where they are a little bit more."

Since last July and Warren Gatland's infamous decision to drop Brian O'Driscoll and Jamie Heaslip from his Lions squad to face Australia in the final Test, this fixture has been marked down as the highlight of the Six Nations calendar.

As for O'Driscoll, the legendary centre will be keeping a low profile this week as the hype builds but he will be hoping more goes his way against the Welsh.

The 35-year-old topped the Irish tackle count yesterday, but little went his way with ball in hand.

"I think he stacked up about 14 tackles and I think he did them pretty effectively," Schmidt said. "It wasn't just the quality of his tackle, it was the quality of what he did post-tackle that makes him great value.

"There were a couple of loose passes and he'll look to tidy that up. He's a player who plays better when he's had a couple of games under his belt."

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