No untouchables on Joe’s watch
Coach seeks to grow the collective against one of the world powers in international rugby
Inside centre Luke Marshall (with ball) makes a break duruing yesterday’s Ireland squad session at Carton House in Co Kildare. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Scrumhalf Eoin Reddan gets his pass away during yesterday’s Ireland squad training session at their base in Carton House in Co Kildare. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Clearly, there won’t be 15 Untouchables under Joe Schmidt’s watch. While the new Ireland head coach has to be taken at his word that his selection policy is partly with a view to building a squad as well as a team, one of the side effects is everyone is indeed being kept on their toes.
Conor Murray may have returned from the summer as Ireland’s first Lions’ scrumhalf since John Robbie and Colin Patterson in 1980, but took a couple of steps too many on occasion before Eoin Reddan quickened the tempo last week, so reputations count for little in Schmidt’s scheme of things.
Likewise, it can’t be too often that a debutant scores two tries in a 20-minute cameo off the bench and finds himself outside the 23 the following week, even though he covers wing and fullback whereas his replacement on the bench has never played wing. (Well, there is Peter O’Mahony, of course.)
Nonetheless, Robbie Henshaw is an exceptional talent (with either he or Rob Kearney, presumably, covering wing) and after starting at fullback against the USA and coming on as a replacement at outside centre against Canada, is promoted as Schmidt – echoing Declan Kidney – seeks to build a squad of “30 to 35 players”.
And, as with Ewen McKenzie, there is more scope for building strength in depth during the November window than in a Championship.
It could be Murray may yet returns to face the All Blacks, as might Gordon D’Arcy, although one ventures the inside centre berth is now Luke Marshall’s to hold.
The anticipated return of Cian Healy, Paul O’Connell, Seán O’Brien and Johnny Sexton should ensure Ireland hit the ground running harder than they did last Saturday – and as they’ll need to do.
The choice of Devin Toner ahead of Mike McCarthy is most definitely a form selection, for McCarthy’s energy levels do not appear as high this season and the vastly improved Toner ought to protect Ireland’s lineout ball better, as well as go after Stephen Moore’s throw more.
“It is less high alert, it is more trying to grow the collective,” emphasised Schmidt of his selection approach.
“I think Dave Kearney is incredibly unlucky. I think that Dave did really well in parts of his game when on he came and there were a couple of parts he didn’t quite nail either. So we are trying to balance not just match performance but training performance as well.
“Robbie Henshaw is a guy who if we don’t give him an opportunity now and we need him in the future then I think we are less prepared.
“I think we have got to prepare as we can be for what the future holds. As we saw last year there is a real risk in not having the opportunity to mix selection up a little bit while at the same time keeping selection strong.”