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Schmidt relieved as Stockdale fit to join Irish in Spain camp


By Cian Tracey

For the first time since taking over as Ireland head coach, Joe Schmidt has organised a warm weather training camp for his squad.

James Cronin was among the group who departed Dublin for Olive Nova in southern Spain yesterday morning as the loosehead prop replaced his club-mate Dave Kilcoyne.

Kilcoyne was the only casualty from the final round of European action last weekend, and he has remained in Munster, where his knee injury is being monitored by the medical staff.

The 29-year-old is enjoying an excellent season and had been chosen ahead of Jack McGrath on the bench for the key November internationals.

The extent of Kilcoyne's knee problem remains to be seen but he left Thomond Park on crutches following Sunday's win over Castres and looks to be a doubt for at least the Six Nations opener in Paris on February 3.

Cronin has been plagued by injuries himself in recent times but since making his latest return from a calf injury, has been in fine form.

The Cork native won the third of his three international caps when Ireland last visited Paris in the 2016 Six Nations.

He faces an uphill task to force himself into the match day squad ahead of Cian Healy and Jack McGrath, who himself has found his best form again, but Cronin's inclusion is merited.

The addition of Cronin ensures that Munster's representation in the 36-man international squad remains at 10.

Leinster continue to provide the bulk with 18 players reporting for duty, while Connacht and Ulster have a quartet each.

Schmidt's decision to bring the squad to Spain came as something of a surprise, particularly because there had been no prior indication that it was in the planning.

Ireland will return on Friday, with Schmidt and captain Rory Best leaving tomorrow to attend the Six Nations launch in London, before rejoining the squad.

The warmer climate will allow Ireland to get through this week's training load in better condition than remaining in Carton House where the players reconvened on Sunday.

The Kiwi follows Eddie Jones' lead as he regularly organises warm weather camps for England. The defending champions are currently in Portugal preparing for their title defence.

Schmidt will have been relieved that Jacob Stockdale was able to travel with the squad.

The 21-year-old flying winger had to be replaced in the early stages of Ulster's defeat against Wasps but thankfully it was nothing more than a dead leg.

Despite Kilcoyne's absence, the Ireland squad is largely in rude health and Schmidt will be hoping that five days in Spain will be the ideal preparation for what promises to be a gruelling Six Nations campaign.

France's preparations for the opener at the Stade de France aren't going as smoothly however, as Morgan Parra and Brice Dulin became the latest duo to cry off with injury.

Jacques Brunel has called up Bordeaux scrum-half Baptiste Serin as the influential Parra's replacement, while Toulon full-back Hugo Bonneval comes in for Dulin.

Serin, a livewire scrum-half, had been first choice before he was overtaken by Antoine Dupont during the November internationals.

Parra's form with Clermont had seen him recalled to the French squad for the first time in two years but the 29-year old suffered a knee injury against the Ospreys. Racing's Dulin was injured in their win in Leicester.

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