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Iain Henderson fights back from injury in bid for place in Ireland squad for Australia tour

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Iain Henderson is believed to have given Joe Schmidt a decision to make after progressing well in his latest fitness battle.

The Ireland touring party for the three-Test tour to Australia is expected to be named at some stage today and Henderson could yet be included, even if he would be a doubt to start the first Test on June 9 having not played a game since the last weekend of April.

The Ulster lock injured his knee against Munster a month ago, missing his province's Champions Cup play-off against Ospreys last weekend.

It was thought then that he would almost certainly miss the tour Down Under as well, Ireland's last summer series before the World Cup in Japan in September next year.

He is, however, already out of his knee brace and has been impressing Irish management when rehabbing in Dublin over the last weeks.

If he were to make the touring party, it is expected he would boost the Ulster contingent in the squad to four.

Rory Best is thought to be confident his own injury won't affect his preparation despite also missing last weekend's Ulster game. The skipper, who signed a central contract through to the end of 2019 after leading Ireland to the Grand Slam, picked up a hamstring injury in training last week.

Six Nations star Jacob Stockdale is sure to be included while John Cooney should be rewarded for his fine form.

Cooney has enjoyed a brilliant first campaign in Ulster colours since making the switch from Connacht last summer.

The scrum-half was voted Player of the Year at Kingspan Stadium and was instrumental again on Sunday as he helped the side secure their place in the Champions Cup for next season.

Despite his strong case, he has not, however, been able to add to the solitary cap he won against Japan last summer.

Conor Murray is Ireland’s undisputed first choice nine but there has been little to choose between Leinster’s Luke McGrath, Cooney and Connacht’s Kieran Marmion.

With McGrath back fit, and Cooney in such good form, it could be Marmion that misses out this time.

Of Ulster’s uncapped contingent, Nick Timoney has made the most pressing claim but Schmidt has a wealth of options in the back-row, even if choosing to give one or two a rest.

Former Ulster centre Sam Arnold, now of Munster, seems a strong candidate to be included after he trained with the squad during the Six Nations, while Tadhg Beirne, who joins him at Thomond Park, is now eligible.

Meanwhile, Ulster are braced for bad news on the injury front with both Louis Ludik and Luke Marshall having picked up injuries last weekend that seem set to rule them out for a chunk of next season.

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