Kearney the only injury concern for Schmidt as attention turns towards Wales

FULLBACK ROB KEARNEY is the only new injury concern for Joe Schmidt in the aftermath of their 19-9 Six Nations win over France, a victory that saw Ireland kept their title interest alive.

England are expected to rack up a bonus-point win against Italy today [KO 3pm] to move back to the top of the championship table, but with two rounds remaining Ireland are in the mix.

Schmidt is now plotting for the Wales clash. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Another break weekend lies ahead, but next up for Ireland is a visit to Cardiff on 10 March to take on a Wales side who were beaten by Vern Cotter’s Scotland at Murrayfield yesterday, their second defeat of the championship.

After seeing off les Bleus in the Dublin rain yesterday, the hope is that Ireland will be facing off against England for the title in Dublin on the final day of the championship on 18 March.

There are various permutations involving bonus points before then, but a Six Nations grand finale against Eddie Jones’ side at the Aviva would be a sensational occasion.

“I probably haven’t done the maths that far ahead, just because we’ve tried to stay really focused on the immediate challenge,” said Schmidt last night when asked about the prospect of that happening.

“We’ve got Wales to come, so we’re not thinking about anything back here [in Dublin] at the end of the championship yet, because it will appeal a lot less to us if it’s not for the championship. That means we’ve got to go to Wales and get a result.

“One of the key things is that England are going to keep going full speed, and Scotland have proven they’re very difficult to get past. They have lost Greig Laidlaw, but the way they stuck at it today, they’re going to go to Twickenham fully armed.

“I think the championship is super. I saw some basketball results this morning [in Super Rugby], there’s not too many of those. It’s massively intense, the coaches are on the edge of our seat, and the players are working incredibly hard.”

Jamie Heaslip and Johnny Sexton after Ireland’s victory. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Despite the many foreboding predictions that Johnny Sexton wouldn’t last the pace on his return to Test rugby, the out-half was superb alongside man of the match Conor Murray.

Sexton played 69 minutes – longer than Schmidt had planned to give the Leinster man – before making way for Paddy Jackson. No new injuries, an excellent performance, and many reasons to be excited that Sexton will offer more in the closing two rounds.

There was, however, one new injury concern for Ireland, as Rob Kearney limped off in the second half to be replaced by Andrew Trimble, meaning Simon Zebo shifted from the left wing to fullback.

Kearney – who was a doubt to face France due to a bicep tendon issue – suffered an adductor injury and Schmidt indicated that he may need a scan.

“His foot slipped away on him on the slippery surface,” said the Ireland head coach. “I’ve got to say the surface was as good as you could possibly make it, but inevitably there was moisture on top.

“Rob was a little bit uncomfortable in the adductor, so we’ll see how that is over the next 24-48 hours and if it continues to niggle away, then we’ll get him scanned. But I don’t think there was anything other than that.”

Ireland will review their performance against les Bleus later today and they have an opening training session at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow, with the bulk of their training to be done early in the week before the rest weekend.

Kearney was the only player to pick up an injury yesterday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

While there will be satisfaction at seeing off the French in Dublin, Schmidt and his players will be turning their attention immediately to the Friday night trip to Cardiff in two weekends’ time.

Having lost twice in their opening three games, Rob Howley’s Welshmen will be desperate for success.

“We can testify how dangerous Scotland are if you give them any sort of space, with their finishers like Stuart Hogg, Tim Visser, and Tommy Seymour.

“So Wales will be disappointed and determined, with doubt. You don’t go to Cardiff and get anything easy, because they take a heck of a lot of pride in making sure they deliver there and they’ve got some super players who make it very difficult.”

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