Joe Schmidt has been handed a boost ahead of Ireland’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Italy on Sunday week with the news that Kieran Marmion has returned to Connacht training.

The 27-year-old underwent ankle surgery after the November win over New Zealand, when he stood in for the injured Conor Murray, and is set to play some part for Connacht against the Cheetahs on Saturday at the Sportsground.

Marmion has been the preferred back-up to Murray and has accumulated 24 caps since making his debut in 2014.

Ulster scrum-half John Cooney has appeared as a replacement against both England, when he scored a late consolation try, and Scotland but has only seen eight minutes game time in total.

Connacht scrum-half Caolin Blade was named in the original Six Nations squad, while Leinster’s Luke McGrath is still recovering from a knee injury.

Lock Quinn Roux and centre Bundee Aki have not been released for the Pro14 game, but Blade, Jack Carty and Tom Farrell are available. 

Meanwhile, Connacht confirmed that prop Denis Buckley has signed a new two-year contract extension that will see him remain at his home province until the end of the 2020-21 season. 

The Roscommon native has made over 150 appearances for Connacht since making his debut as an Academy player in 2011.

He said: "We have a squad of players who are hugely ambitious about what we can achieve at Connacht and I look forward to playing my part in those plans.

"I am fortunate to have played as a professional rugby player with my home province and I am grateful to everyone who has supported me on and off the field over the past few years."