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Jun 16, 2023

Ireland expect first choice hookers Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher to be fit for the World Cup, coach Andy Farrell said in a major boost for the Six Nations champions.

Sheehan hobbled off with a foot injury in last weekend's 29-10 win over England, while Kelleher's hamstring problem keeps him out of Saturday's team to face Samoa, meaning he will be the only player in the squad not to feature in any warm-up games. Sheehan, who has made an enormous impact since his debut two years ago, sprained a ligament in his foot, which Farrell said was a better outcome than expected.

"We'll see how he progresses over the coming weeks but we expect him to be fit for the World Cup," Farrell told a news conference when asked whether Sheehan would be available for the straightforward opener against Romania on Sept. 9. "As far as Ronan is concerned, he's doing great. He's flying around the place at this moment in time. This week, say it was a World Cup semi-final or final, I'm sure that we could have got him over the line but there's no need to do that."

Farrell will nevertheless hand Ulster hooker Tom Stewart his first international start against Samoa in Bayonne, France. Stewart, who made his debut off the bench against Italy this month, appears to be battling with his more experienced Ulster team mate Rob Herring for the third hooker spot in the squad.

Very much in the all-action, try-scoring mould of Sheehan, the 22-year-old Stewart was the United Rugby Championship's top try scorer this season with 16 in 15 games, including back-to-back hat tricks in the province's final four matches. There are first warm-up starts for Conor Murray, Cian Healy and Finlay Bealham - each of whom looks certain to be included in Farrell's final 33-man squad. Healy will become the outright third most capped Irish player with his 125th appearance.

While Ryan Baird gets another chance to show his versatility at back row and Stuart McCloskey starts at centre, the exclusion of Jacob Stockdale and Ciaran Frawley from the matchday 22 would appear to lengthen their odds of making the final cut on Monday. Ireland team:

15. Jimmy O'Brien, 14. Mack Hansen, 13. Robbie Henshaw, 12. Stuart McCloskey, 11. Keith Earls, 10. Jack Crowley, 9. Conor Murray; 1. Cian Healy, 2. Tom Stewart, 3. Finlay Bealham, 4. Iain Henderson (captain), 5. Tadhg Beirne, 6. Ryan Baird, 7. Josh van der Flier, 8. Caelan Doris Replacements: 16. Rob Herring, 17. Jeremy Loughman, 18. Tom O'Toole, 19. James Ryan, 20. Peter O'Mahony, 21. Craig Casey, 22. Ross Byrne, 23. Garry Ringrose.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)