Rob Kearney stepped up his training with the Ireland rugby squad today ahead of Sunday's Test against New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium.

Kearney sustained a rib injury in last Saturday's defeat to Australia and has been rated as a doubt, but his return to fitness is a boost for coach Joe Schmidt. 

Schmidt is still keeping a close watch on the fitness of both Jonathan Sexton (hamstring) and Brian O’Driscoll (calf), who both once again sat out training as they bid to overcome their injuries. 

However, Forwards coach John Plumtree insists time is on the duo's side as they seek to recover for Ireland's final match of the year.

"It's hard to say if they'll be available. The nice thing is that we've got a long turnaround this week," Plumtree said.

"It's only Wednesday, so they've got a day off on Thursday and then come in on Friday.

"We've got that extra day which is great and hopefully by the time they come in on Friday they'll be feeling a lot better."

O'Driscoll's absence would be a bitter pill to swallow for both player and country given it will be his last chance to play New Zealand before retiring at the end of the season.

Plumtree was angry with the display of his pack against Australia and warned them a substantial improvement is required if they are to compete with the All Blacks.

"We were very average against Australia and we're very disappointed with that performance. We scrummed poorly," the Kiwi said.

"We conceded a soft try from their drive which the boys are fuming at.

"We knew it was coming, but we didn't execute the plan we had in place, which makes it doubly irritating.

"There's been an extra edge in the forwards this week and there has to be.

"We're playing against probably the best side in the world and the pack needs to front up big time.

"As a pack New Zealand are the ultimate test. It doesn't get any tougher than this and we were irritated with our performance last week."

Live television coverage of Ireland v New Zealand from 13:00 on Sunday 24 November on RTÉ Two and RTÉ.ie (Ireland only). Live radio coverage on Sunday Sport from 14:00 on RTÉ Radio 1 and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide).