Hugo Keenan and Garry Ringrose return to Ireland training ahead of England clash

Six Nations: Leinster duo train alongside Iain Henderson and Oli Jager as Ireland report a clean bill of health ahead of Twickenham trip

Ireland have been boosted by the return to full fitness of Hugo Keenan, as well as two other players who were ruled out of the win over Wales in Garry Ringrose and Iain Henderson, ahead of next Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations encounter against England at Twickenham (kick-off 4.45pm).

Keenan missed the 31-7 home win over Wales last Saturday week due to the knee injury he suffered in the second half of the round two victory over Italy, the durable 27-year-old’s 32nd start in Ireland’s 36 Test matches since February 2021.

This afforded Ciarán Frawley the opportunity to make his full, try-scoring debut against the Welsh but all the signs are that Keenan will return for the trek to Twickenham. Ringrose also looks likely to be in the mix after missing the opening three rounds with a shoulder injury while Henderson was ruled out of consideration for the Welsh game with a dislocated toe which has also fully healed. Ireland’s Wednesday contact session will be the acid test.

“Garry and Hugo, Hendy, all trained today, Oli [Jager] as well,” said scrum coach John Fogarty following the squad’s non-contact Tuesday session at the IRFU high performance centre.


“It’s such an important day for us to be on the field. A healthy squad training today is important for selection and it was great they were all on the field.”

“They are on the road to recovery,” added Fogarty. “Training on the field today live was important for them. We’ll see how they got through the session.

“We’ve another session tomorrow, which is the most physical session of the week where we’ll properly test our plan and the players so we’ll see how he [Keenan] gets through tomorrow and then Andy will select his side. It [today] is full speed, there’s no huge contact in it. It’s kind of a coaching day.

“Monday is forming a plan, Tuesday we put it on the field and we’ll see the timings of our launch plays and how our defence works and tomorrow we’ll test that full contact. We want to get as live as possible, ready for what’s going to be a huge test in Twickenham.”

Looking ahead to next Saturday’s game, Fogarty said: “It’s Ireland England, isn’t it? It’s such a brilliant place to go and play rugby. The English squad rise to play in Twickenham.

“I know that they will be hurt from the last game,” said Fogarty in reference to England’s loss against Scotland last time out, “but they will be so proud to play in front of their home support. It’s a cauldron, the stadium itself generates a huge amount of noise, which can be chaotic in the mind of players.

“It’s a huge rivalry but where we are right now is preparing for that cauldron, preparing for that energy that is Twickenham. That’s what’s to the front of the players’ minds, trying to make sure we are the best version of ourselves, representing Ireland in a calm way where we can see what’s in front of us and play our game.”

If it does come to pass that Keenan and Ringrose, as well as Henderson, are all deemed fit to play then it will assuredly make this the most difficult selection of the 2024 Six Nations campaign to date. Should Andy Farrell and co retain a 6-2 split, which seems likely, Keenan will presumably be recalled as will Ringrose, if only to the number 23 jersey, meaning Frawley and Stuart McCloskey could miss out. The same is likely true for Henderson

“Well, we as forwards coaches obviously love the idea of having [6/2]. The quality in players we’ve brought off the bench as forwards, it’s amazing watching training sessions now, the fine margins, one group getting the better of the other group, it’s a very, very competitive pack, and they’re working very hard to improve each other.

“I guess from our end as forwards coaches it’s a big positive for us. I think the whole time though, we want to do the right thing for each game. Andy will make the decisions but we want to do the right thing for the team. Me and Paul, we’d love to be 6/2 and bring on the dynamic players that we have, but I guess we’re trying to make the right calls for the team each week so we’ll see what comes up.

The Irish scrum conceded five penalties on a difficult day in Twickenham two years ago before prevailing in spite of that set-piece as because of it.

“Yeah, that was a huge disappointment. We want to deliver for the team. Our scrum wants to deliver for the team, moments, and momentum is huge in Twickenham and the energy again, I’ve spoken about the energy that can be generated because of set piece, and scrum and maul will be big on their minds.

“So it was a big moment for us as a group. It was frustrating. England when they get forward in the scrum, if they get any momentum at all, they’ll want to finish the scrum quite quickly. They’ll either walk around it or drop it on the floor and it forces a decision from the referee.

“I think the referee got a few things wrong that day. Since then we’ve built a pretty good scrum. Again, there’s been disappointments but through the campaign we’ve learned along the way and we’re in a good spot now. There was a few penalties against Italy, good few penalties against Wales, I think we’re launching 94 per cent which is top of the pile in terms of launching our own ball, we’ve conceded one penalty off our own ball.

“We’re in a good place but the wrong mentality, get ahead of yourself, and you let them in. We don’t want to give any team momentum, we don’t want to give any momentum to England at the weekend.

It’s going to be a huge part of the game. We’re preparing for a massive battle and Nika [Amashukeli], the referee, he’s got a job on his hands because it’s a huge occasion for both teams to go and do something meaningful, so it’s a big part of the game that we’ve preparing for.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times