Iain Henderson appears to be Ireland’s only injury concern heading into the Guinness Six Nations first round against Wales on Saturday, February 5.
The Ulster captain has made only one appearance since Ireland’s win against the All Blacks in November, suffering a hamstring injury before suffering an ankle pat on his return in December.
The 29-year-old was included in Andy Farrell’s squad for the opening two rounds of the tournament against Wales and France, and remains in the running for the opener against the defending champions.
The good news is that he is probably the only injury concern Farrell has to deal with.
Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan, Josh van der Flier, Jordan Larmour and Joey Carbery have reported to camp with claps, but the head coach believes they will all be lining up to return to training in a few days.
“To sum it up, we expect everyone except Iain Henderson to be fully training with us by the end of the week,” Farrell told RTÉ Sport this morning at the 2022 championship launch.
“Iain Henderson, that doesn’t mean he’s out of the game in Wales, we’ll take it day by day and see how it goes.”
— RTÉ Rugby (@RTErugby) January 26, 2022
With Carbery likely fit, it will likely leave the Munster out-half competing with Connacht’s Jack Carty as a backup to Johnny Sexton in the championship.
Carbery appeared to be getting into shape before suffering a broken elbow in November, and Farrell says he is really determined to be back in time for the Six Nations.
“Joey has been fit from week two after his elbow injury so he is rock solid,” he added.
“He’s been doing all the ball skills, etc. constantly and all he’s had to wait for is to get everything free to get back in touch and he’s had that now, so all systems go.
Ireland will be without James Lowe (below) for the first few weeks of the Championship, with the Leinster winger suffering a hamstring injury in training last week, which resulted in him being dropped from the 37-man roster expected to leave for Portugal tomorrow for a training camp.
But Farrell is hopeful that the 29-year-old will be available in the later rounds.
“We’ll see how his condition is when he comes back,” he said.
“We expect it to be a few weeks, we don’t know how much yet, just not yet. I suppose it goes its own way with each hamstring, doesn’t it.
“James, to be honest, is absolutely gutted. He will do everything he can to get fit as soon as possible and we will judge it from there.”
Expectations for Ireland will be high this year as they look to build on their impressive finish to 2021.
Following their wins against New Zealand, Argentina and Japan in November, Farrell’s team currently has an eight-game winning streak, dating back to their Round 2 defeat to France nearly 12 months ago.
However, the head coach says the level of their performance in November may have been exaggerated.
The former dual-code England international said: “It’s very easy to find room for growth, you can look at all areas of your game and you You will always dissect it. If you dissect it and be honest with yourself, you will see how you can do things better.
“In the scheme of things, you can look at the results and think that everything has gone smoothly, but in reality it hasn’t.
“We are also so far away from November now, we are on the next, we are analyzing it and trying to get better.
“This is no different, the start of a new competition that means a lot to everyone. We have to improve constantly to make sure we have a chance.”
Meanwhile, French head coach Fabien Galthie says his star men Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack are “doing well” after each testing positive for coronavirus.
Les Bleus’ preparation for the Six Nations has been severely disrupted by a large number of withdrawals from Galthie’s 42-man squad.
In addition to world player of the year Dupont and fly-half Ntamack, Francois Cros, Gaetan Barlot, Anthony Jelonch, Cyril Baille, Bernard Le Roux and Pierre Bourgarit were also removed due to Covid-19.
“We will of course keep in touch with all players at a distance,” said Galthie, whose side will start the championship at home in Italy on February 6.
“We have good news about the players and their health and they are all doing well.”
Toulouse scrum half Dupont has not played since December 11 due to a combination of delay, fatigue and injury.
The 25-year-old could be involved in his club’s game at home against Racing 92 on Saturday as he tries to regain his focus before likely returning to international service.
Specifically about Dupont, Galthie – who expects to provide further updates on his roster next week – said: “I spoke to him: he is doing well. He resumed training two weeks ago.
“He wanted to play against Cardiff, but the match fell through. Then of course he tested positive for Covid. But he is doing well and he is still training.”
“Today he had a test at his club and depending on the results he may or may not play for Toulouse this weekend.
“That is up to his head coach Ugo Mola and I am confident that he will make the right decision, both for his team and for Antoine.”
France is also without Cameron Woki, Anthony Bouthier and Uini Atonio due to injury.
Follow all Irish Six Nations matches via our live blogs at rte.ie/sport and on the RTÉ News app or listen to live radio coverage on RTÉ Radio 1. Watch live TV coverage of Ireland v Wales (February 5, 2.15pm) and England v Ireland (March 12, 4:45 PM) on RTÉ2 and the RTÉ Player.