Ireland given Conor Murray fitness boost

Conor Murray fit for Ireland

Conor Murray fit for Ireland

Conor Murray has been passed fit for Ireland’s RBS 6 Nations opener against Italy in Rome.

The British and Irish Lions scrum-half has battled neck trouble for the last month but is back in full training and ready to start Saturday's Stadio Olimpico clash.

Ireland team manager Mick Kearney admitted "some small doubt" over number eight Jamie Heaslip, who is carrying a shoulder injury.

Fit-again Sean O'Brien is fit to face the Italians if required, though Ireland may choose not to risk the combative flanker who is finally past 14 months of shoulder problems.

Cian Healy remains in line to return from a long-term hamstring injury to face France in round two, with Johnny Sexton expecting the all-clear on Thursday for the Dublin clash with Les Bleus on Valentine's Day.

"Conor Murray trained well on Friday and he progressed to full contact training," said Kearney. 

"He has seen a specialist, we had an open training session in the Aviva (Stadium) on Friday and Conor took a full part in that.

"There was some minor contact in that session but he came through it really well, and we would expect that Conor would be available for selection."

Munster scrum-half Murray's fitness will be a clear boost when Ireland launch the defence of their Six Nations crown against the Azzurri this weekend.

Only last week boss Joe Schmidt was sweating on injuries to both front-line scrum-halves – Murray and Leinster's Eoin Reddan – but now both could face Italy.

Racing Metro fly-half Sexton will miss Saturday's tournament opener as he completes his enforced 12-week lay-off after a string of concussions.

Ireland bosses expect the Lions playmaker to receive the all-clear in time to train fully next week, in a bid to return against France on February 14.

"Jamie Heaslip continues to rehab his shoulder and we are hopeful that he'll train fully tomorrow," said Kearney. "I would say there's probably some small doubt about him, but he's recovered really well.

"Jamie being the professional athlete that he is, he really does look after his body extremely well and would have worked on it over the weekend.

"So I suppose the next day or two will tell a lot, but there would be a small degree of doubt about him, maybe, yes. We are hopeful Cian Healy will return to full training at some stage this week.

"Depending on how he goes this week, if he comes through some tests he will be allowed to train fully for the rest of the week.

"I suppose if that happens with Cian, given the athlete that he is, I would expect that he would be in consideration for the French game, yes.

"Eoin Reddan is making good progress from a knee ligament injury and we're hopeful that he'll train tomorrow also. Jonathan Sexton is seeing his neurologist in Paris on Thursday.

"I must say he's been in camp all last week, he's trained really well, very focused, taking a full part except for the full contact.

"So he'll see his neurologist on Thursday, hopefully he'll get a clean bill of health and it will be all systems go for the following week."

Wing Dave Kearney is expected to be fit for selection against Italy despite suffering a nasty shoulder injury in Leinster's 20-20 Champions Cup draw with Wasps on January 24.

Lock Mike McCarthy has not been ruled out of the Italy clash despite suffering a heavy concussion in Friday night's Ireland Wolfhounds match, while Luke Fitzgerald has recovered from illness.

Ireland team boss Kearney also confirmed flanker O'Brien came through the Wolfhounds clash unscathed.

"Sean came through really well, he's a little stiff and sore as you'd expect after his first game back in, what, six months and going straight into a pretty competitive international-type match," said Kearney.

"But he came through it really well, he's in good form and he's really happy to be back obviously in the mix."

Ireland given Conor Murray fitness boost

Conor Murray fit for Ireland

Conor Murray fit for Ireland

Conor Murray has been passed fit for Ireland’s RBS 6 Nations opener against Italy in Rome.

The British and Irish Lions scrum-half has battled neck trouble for the last month but is back in full training and ready to start Saturday's Stadio Olimpico clash.

Ireland team manager Mick Kearney admitted "some small doubt" over number eight Jamie Heaslip, who is carrying a shoulder injury.

Fit-again Sean O'Brien is fit to face the Italians if required, though Ireland may choose not to risk the combative flanker who is finally past 14 months of shoulder problems.

Cian Healy remains in line to return from a long-term hamstring injury to face France in round two, with Johnny Sexton expecting the all-clear on Thursday for the Dublin clash with Les Bleus on Valentine's Day.

"Conor Murray trained well on Friday and he progressed to full contact training," said Kearney. 

"He has seen a specialist, we had an open training session in the Aviva (Stadium) on Friday and Conor took a full part in that.

"There was some minor contact in that session but he came through it really well, and we would expect that Conor would be available for selection."

Munster scrum-half Murray's fitness will be a clear boost when Ireland launch the defence of their Six Nations crown against the Azzurri this weekend.

Only last week boss Joe Schmidt was sweating on injuries to both front-line scrum-halves – Murray and Leinster's Eoin Reddan – but now both could face Italy.

Racing Metro fly-half Sexton will miss Saturday's tournament opener as he completes his enforced 12-week lay-off after a string of concussions.

Ireland bosses expect the Lions playmaker to receive the all-clear in time to train fully next week, in a bid to return against France on February 14.

"Jamie Heaslip continues to rehab his shoulder and we are hopeful that he'll train fully tomorrow," said Kearney. "I would say there's probably some small doubt about him, but he's recovered really well.

"Jamie being the professional athlete that he is, he really does look after his body extremely well and would have worked on it over the weekend.

"So I suppose the next day or two will tell a lot, but there would be a small degree of doubt about him, maybe, yes. We are hopeful Cian Healy will return to full training at some stage this week.

"Depending on how he goes this week, if he comes through some tests he will be allowed to train fully for the rest of the week.

"I suppose if that happens with Cian, given the athlete that he is, I would expect that he would be in consideration for the French game, yes.

"Eoin Reddan is making good progress from a knee ligament injury and we're hopeful that he'll train tomorrow also. Jonathan Sexton is seeing his neurologist in Paris on Thursday.

"I must say he's been in camp all last week, he's trained really well, very focused, taking a full part except for the full contact.

"So he'll see his neurologist on Thursday, hopefully he'll get a clean bill of health and it will be all systems go for the following week."

Wing Dave Kearney is expected to be fit for selection against Italy despite suffering a nasty shoulder injury in Leinster's 20-20 Champions Cup draw with Wasps on January 24.

Lock Mike McCarthy has not been ruled out of the Italy clash despite suffering a heavy concussion in Friday night's Ireland Wolfhounds match, while Luke Fitzgerald has recovered from illness.

Ireland team boss Kearney also confirmed flanker O'Brien came through the Wolfhounds clash unscathed.

"Sean came through really well, he's a little stiff and sore as you'd expect after his first game back in, what, six months and going straight into a pretty competitive international-type match," said Kearney.

"But he came through it really well, he's in good form and he's really happy to be back obviously in the mix."

Victorious McIlroy admits he still gets nervous

Rory McIlroy holds the trophy after winning the Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament

Rory McIlroy holds the trophy after winning the Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament

World number one Rory McIlroy admitted he was looking for the solid rather than the spectacular as he won the Dubai Desert Classic for a second time.

The Northern Irishman won by three shots ahead of Alex Noren with a final round 70 securing his 10th European Tour title.

Six years ago, a teenage McIlroy captured his first professional title at the event and after coming close a couple of times since, the 25-year-old was delighted.

"It is always great coming back here, it is nice to put my name on trophy once again," he said at the trophy presentation.

"I felt like I was finishing second every time I was teeing it up, so it was time for a change, obviously the only way I wanted to go was one better and thankfully I was able to do that today.

"I played very nicely all week. I did what I needed to do today to keep my nose in front and be able to win.

"I still get nervous, a little tentative, we've seen what can happen to big leads.

"I was making sure I wasn't making any mistakes and to play a solid round."

Noren, who played just two events in 2014 due to tendinitis in both wrists, finished second after an impressive six-under final round of 65 saw him leap up the leaderboard from eighth to finish on 19 under par.

Noren was not thinking about victory at the start of the day and after missing so much time due to injury of late, the Swede was delighted with his showing.

"It was an amazing day, an amazing week," said Noren, who finished ninth at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters last week.

"I missed it so much it was really nice. I never, ever thought of winning. He (McIlroy) is playing so good, I was trying to get a nice finish.

"I just tried to keep making birdies and keep up with the other guys."

Stephen Gallacher, who won the tournament both in 2013 and 2014, failed to replicate the form he showed on the first two days.

Gallacher finished with four birdies in the back nine, but dropped shots on the first and 14th meant he finished third on 16 under.

England's Andy Sullivan failed to finish strongly with a bogey on 15 bringing an end to his challenge, while a dropped shot on the last meant he finished in fourth, with a two-under final round of 70.

Martin Kaymer was the day's big mover as he closed with a final-round 64 to jump 30 places and finish level with Sullivan on 15 under par.

France's Gary Stal also finished in fifth after four under on the final day, with Bernd Wiesberger also finishing 15 under.

Morten Orum Madsen, who started the day in second, was left ruing a seven on the opening hole and two dropped shots on the back nine as he finished on 15 under.

Graeme McDowell closed with a 70 to finish 14 under par, good enough for ninth.

His countryman McIlroy never looked like losing control.

He only hit four fairways in regulation on the third day, with his superb play with the putter seeing him through.

And McIlroy needed his hot club to get through the first unscathed after another loose tee shot, while good work in the sand on the third saw him claim his first birdie of the day on three.

McIlroy dropped his first shot in two days on the seventh.

The group behind were closing, with Madsen moving back up the field with three birdies while Noren was also moving up the field after four-under-par scores in the opening seven.

Another sand save from McIlroy, this time on the 10th, saw him pick up another birdie before another poor approach, this time on 12, meant he had to work hard again to save par.

Sullivan birdied 13 and Madsen 14 to keep the pressure on the leader, while Lee Westwood, who began the day in third, was having a nightmare, with a bogey at six, a double bogey at nine and another dropped shot at 12 meaning the end of his challenge. He finished with a level-par 72 to finish ninth.

McIlroy's approach on 13 was far more palatable, as he claimed another birdie to stretch his lead back to five.

Noren made birdies at 17 and 18 and a final round of 65 would have been well received after spending so long away from the sport late year.

Madsen bogeyed both 15 and 16 to end his challenge and with McIlroy consistently making pars, the title was his.

Ireland trim Six Nations squad

Joe Schmidt says some of Ireland's Wolfhounds will have another chance to impress

Joe Schmidt says some of Ireland’s Wolfhounds will have another chance to impress

Ireland have trimmed their squad to 38 players for the opening two rounds of the Six Nations Championship, due to injuries and a number of Wolfhounds returning to their provinces.

Joe Schmidt's side open their Six Nations defence against Italy at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday, before hosting France at the Aviva Stadium the following weekend.

"Jack Conan and Michael Bent did well (on Friday night for the Wolfhounds) against the Saxons but will return to Leinster, as will Noel Reid who was restricted to a brief cameo as he was covering a number of positions," Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt said.

"Rob Herring returns to Ulster and will look forward to having an opportunity for further game-time. Fergus McFadden has a rib cartilage injury, while Craig Gilroy will follow the return to play protocols after a concussion in the Wolfhounds game."

Dave Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald are expected to be fully fit to train in preparation for Italy, while Eoin Reddan and Jamie Heaslip are progressing well and are likely to be available to train fully on Tuesday, the Irish Rugby Football Union said on Sunday.

Mike McCarthy suffered a concussion during the Wolfhounds game and will stay with the squad while completing the return to play protocols. Cian Healy continues to make very promising progress post his hamstring injury.

Conor Murray trained well on Friday and is expected to be fit for the Azzurri clash.

Ireland trim Six Nations squad

Joe Schmidt says some of Ireland's Wolfhounds will have another chance to impress

Joe Schmidt says some of Ireland’s Wolfhounds will have another chance to impress

Ireland have trimmed their squad to 38 players for the opening two rounds of the Six Nations Championship, due to injuries and a number of Wolfhounds returning to their provinces.

Joe Schmidt's side open their Six Nations defence against Italy at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday, before hosting France at the Aviva Stadium the following weekend.

"Jack Conan and Michael Bent did well (on Friday night for the Wolfhounds) against the Saxons but will return to Leinster, as will Noel Reid who was restricted to a brief cameo as he was covering a number of positions," Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt said.

"Rob Herring returns to Ulster and will look forward to having an opportunity for further game-time. Fergus McFadden has a rib cartilage injury, while Craig Gilroy will follow the return to play protocols after a concussion in the Wolfhounds game."

Dave Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald are expected to be fully fit to train in preparation for Italy, while Eoin Reddan and Jamie Heaslip are progressing well and are likely to be available to train fully on Tuesday, the Irish Rugby Football Union said on Sunday.

Mike McCarthy suffered a concussion during the Wolfhounds game and will stay with the squad while completing the return to play protocols. Cian Healy continues to make very promising progress post his hamstring injury.

Conor Murray trained well on Friday and is expected to be fit for the Azzurri clash.

Rory McIlroy too good for the rest in Dubai

McIlroy on fire in Dubai

McIlroy on fire in Dubai

Rory McIlroy has won the Omega Dubai Desert Classic by three shots after a closing round of 70 saw him finish the tournament on 22 under par.

McIlroy's first ever professional win came at the tournament six years ago and after four consecutive top-10 finishes the Coffee Pot Trophy once again belongs to the 25-year-old.

Rounds of 66, 64 and 66 had given the Northern Irishman a four-shot lead into the final day and although he registered his first bogey since the opening round on Sunday, no one could come close.

A birdie on three got the ball rolling and although he bogeyed the par-four seventh, under-par scores at 10 and 13 extended his advantage.

McIlroy was consistent as he parred the remaining five holes to capture his 10th European Tour win.

Alex Noren, who played just two events in 2014 due to tendinitis in both wrists, finished second after an impressive six-under final round of 65 saw him leap up the leaderboard from eighth to finish on 19 under par.

Stephen Gallacher, who won the tournament both in 2013 and 2014, failed to replicate the form he showed on the first two days.

Gallacher finished with four birdies in the back nine, but dropped shots on the first and 14th meant he finished third on 16 under.

England's Andy Sullivan failed to finish strongly with a bogey on 15 bringing an end to his challenge, while a dropped shot on the last meant he finished in fourth, with a two-under final round of 70.

Martin Kaymer was the day's big mover as he closed with a final-round 64 to jump 30 places and finish level with Sullivan on 15 under par.

France's Gary Stal also finished in fifth after four under on the final day, with Bernd Wiesberger also finishing 15 under.

Morten Orum Madsen, who started the day in second, was left ruing a seven on the opening hole and two dropped shots on the back nine as he finished on 15 under.

Graeme McDowell closed with a 70 to finish 14 under par, good enough for ninth.

His countryman McIlroy never looked like losing control. He only hit four fairways in regulation on the third day, with his superb play with the putter seeing him through.

And McIlroy needed his hot club to get through the first unscathed after another loose tee shot, while good work in the sand on the third saw him claim his first birdie of the day on three, before the Irishman dropped his first shot in two days on the seventh.

The group behind were closing, with Madsen moving back up the field with three birdies after a disastrous seven on the opening hole, while Noren was also moving up the field after four-under-par scores in the opening seven.

Another sand save from McIlroy, this time on the 10th, saw him pick up another birdie before another poor approach, this time on 12, meant he had to work hard again to save par.

Sullivan birdied 13 and Madsen 14 to keep the pressure on the leader, while Lee Westwood, who began the day in third, was having a nightmare, with a bogey at six, a double bogey at nine and another dropped shot at 12 meaning the end of his challenge. He finished with a level-par 72 to finish ninth.

McIlroy's approach on 13 was far more palatable, as he claimed another birdie to stretch his lead back to five.

Madsen showed his recovery skills after an impressive shot from the bunker on 14 led to a par, but with the holes running out, the Dane was needing to pick up shots quickly.

Noren made birdies at 17 and 18 and a final round of 65 would have been well received after spending so long away from the sport late year.

Madsen bogeyed both 15 and 16 to end his challenge and with McIlroy consistently making pars, the title was his.