Joe Schmidt optimistic Brian O’Driscoll will play in all three Tests
Ireland coach will be guided by former captain but says he’s fresh and raring to go
IIreland head coach Joe Schmidt at Carton House yesterday. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell have been the twin totems of Irish rugby in the professional era, but it will be some achievement for either or both to complete all three matches against countries ranked seventh, fourth and first in the world over successive weekends. The ripple effects on the team’s leadership, not to mention the captaincy, will be significant.
To put the upcoming demands on O’Driscoll in perspective, the 34-year-old has played 70 minutes of competitive rugby since June due to the torn calf which sidelined him from Leinster’s opening Heineken Cup games. There will be no holding him back from the Samoan game, with Australia and one last tilt at the All Blacks to follow, but can he play three games in a row?
“I think if you ask him, he’ll say ‘yes’, undoubtedly,” ventured Joe Schmidt cheerily. “My view would be to be guided by him. He knows his own body pretty well. I think that he’s so fresh is a real advantage. It’d be nice to be able to say ‘bring him back in a Pro12 games’, give him 60 minutes or give him 50 minutes and build him back in to full match fitness. We don’t have that luxury. We have to play three finals in a row and you’ve got to prioritise the first final. And so if he does play and start against Samoa, I’d expect he could probably do the same against Australia and New Zealand.
‘Training really well’
“The one thing I would say about Brian is he is training really well. He is looking sharp, he is pretty comfortable on the pitch at the moment. I have no doubt a steely mind can get over some fatigued lungs and at this stage I’d be really comfortable with Brian starting against Samoa if that’s what we think is the best option.”
The four additions to the original 34-man squad – Andrew Trimble, Roger Wilson, Martin Moore and Donncha O’Callaghan – have been released back to their respective provinces, as has James Coughlan on foot of his specific request to have some game time this weekend when Munster host the Ospreys tomorrow.
Some game time
O’Driscoll could possibly have done with some game time as well but Leinster’s game away to the Dragons tonight “just didn’t really fit” admitted Schmidt, adding: “He has his testimonial tomorrow night, knowing that he wasn’t going to be available, not for certain because he takes nothing for granted, but he therefore isn’t available to play that game. But I also think that a week’s training is probably a better idea for him. I remember putting him out against Clermont in Bordeaux in a semi-final and he hadn’t played. He was super for at least 60 minutes. He started to get a little bit tired at the end, but it was a pretty hot day.”
That assuredly applies to the captaincy as well. Schmidt said last September that he wouldn’t be making any announcement regarding the captaincy until two weeks out from the Samoan game. As this will now not take place before Tuesday at the earliest, it would suggest O’Connell remains the favourite to lead the side but pending an anxious wait as to his availability.
‘Cuting it fine’
“I think Tuesday would probably be the earliest for Paul, which would be cutting it fine,” conceded Schmidt. “He is very much abreast of what we’re doing. He has been out on the pitch for all the sessions. He is the sort of guy who does his homework pretty well. It’s impossible to say.”
Even though there is “quiet optimism among the medical staff” that O’Connell will take some part in training on Tuesday, even then Schmidt wouldn’t rule out resting the player.
“To be honest the captaincy is still a bit of a moot point. With the group, I’ve got to say I’m really enjoying the group, they are a very collective group. I know there’s a lot said about guys coming from different provinces; they’ve mixed pretty well. The guys who are showing leadership are mixed across the board and and probably the earliest we would name a captain is prior to the team announcement next week, maybe Tuesday or maybe Thursday.”