Six Nations 2015: O'Brien and Healy stay in Ireland squad

Sean O'Brien battles with Thomas Waldrom in Friday's game between Ireland Wolfhounds and the England Saxons
Sean O'Brien played his first game in more than six months on Friday
RBS Six Nations: Italy v Ireland
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome Date: Saturday, 7 February Kick-off: 14:30 GMT Coverage: Live on BBC TV, HD, Red Button, Radio 5 live, the BBC Sport website, mobile, the BBC Sport app and Connected TV.

Flanker Sean O'Brien and prop Cian Healy remain in contention to play in Ireland's opening two Six Nations games after being named in a 38-man squad despite lengthy injury lay-offs.

O'Brien played his first match since September as the Irish Wolfhounds lost to England Saxons on Friday.

Healy has also been injured since September but is nearing full fitness.

Backs Dave Kearney and Conor Murray are likely to be fit for Saturday's game in Italy, but wing Fergus McFadden is out.

Lions scrum-half Murray, who has been out with a neck injury, trained with the Ireland squad on Friday, while an Irish Rugby statement on Sunday said Healy "continues to make very promising progress".

The Lions prop has not played since September because of a hamstring tear, while O'Brien has been absent with a shoulder problem.

Ireland open their Six Nations campaign in Rome before facing France at home seven days later.

McFadden will not be considered for both matches because of a rib injury while Ulster wing Craig Gilroy also drops out from an initial 46-man squad after suffering concussion on Wolfhounds duty.

McFadden's Leinster team-mates Jack Conan, Michael Bent and Noel Reid have also been released from the squad after featuring for the Wolfhounds, while hooker Rob Herring will return to Ulster.

Munster lock Dave Foley and Leinster back row Rhys Ruddock have already been ruled out of the opening two games because of injury.

Jonathan Sexton has not played since Ireland's win over Australia on 22 November
Jonathan Sexton is likely to miss Ireland's Six Nations opener against Italy because of concussion

But Eoin Reddan, Murray's main rival for the number nine jersey, is expected to be fit after a knee injury while wing Kearney has made a quick recovery after injuring a shoulder.

Back Luke Fitzgerald is also in contention for selection after missing the Wolfhounds defeat because of a stomach bug while number eight Jamie Heaslip is expected to resume training on Tuesday after being troubled by a shoulder injury.

Fly-half Jonathan Sexton has also been included in the squad, but looks certain to miss the Rome contest following a series of concussions.

The Racing Metro fly-half is serving a stand-down period which is not scheduled to end until 14 February - the day Ireland face France.

With Ulster fly-half Paddy Jackson ruled out of the entire Six Nations because of a dislocated elbow, Leinster's Ian Madigan is being tipped to wear Ireland's number 10 jersey against the Italians.

Ireland's 38-man squad

Forwards: Rory Best (Ulster), Sean Cronin (Leinster), James Cronin (Munster), Robbie Diack (Ulster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Mike McCarthy (Leinster), Jack McGrath (Leinster), Marty Moore (Leinster), Jordi Murphy (Leinster), Sean O'Brien (Leinster), Paul O'Connell (Munster), Tommy O'Donnell (Munster), Peter O'Mahony (Munster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Dominic Ryan (Leinster), Richardt Strauss (Leinster), Devin Toner (Leinster), Nathan White (Connacht).

Backs: Isaac Boss (Leinster), Tommy Bowe (Ulster), Darren Cave (Ulster), Gordon D'Arcy (Leinster), Keith Earls (Munster), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster), Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Felix Jones (Munster), Dave Kearney (Leinster), Rob Kearney (Leinster), Ian Keatley (Munster), Ian Madigan (Leinster), Kieran Marmion (Connacht), Conor Murray (Munster), Jared Payne (Ulster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Jonathan Sexton (Racing Metro 92), Simon Zebo (Munster).

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