Changes for Canada game not all tactical, says Joe Schmidt
Three uncapped players Billy Holland, Jack O’Donoghue and Garry Ringrose to start
Donnacha Ryan and Devin Toner in training for Ireland’s clash with Canada. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Jack O’Donoghue: one of three uncapped players in Joe Schmidt’s starting XV. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Seán O’Brien, Rory Best and Paddy Jackson training in Carton House. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
An entirely remodelled Irish team for Saturday’s game against Canada smacks of a preordained selection strategy. However, Joe Schmidt yesterday revealed that the Irish management’s initial intention to retain about one-third of the starting team against the All Blacks was revised when analysing the fatigue suffered in last week’s historic if jet-lagging escapade to Chicago.
“We probably didn’t need to change as many as we did, but the fatigue factor was very noticeable for us on Tuesday,” he said when showing his hand at the squad’s base in Carton House.
“We started thinking about maybe changing a few more than initially thought. I think for us, as well, you don’t get too many opportunities to make a few changes. I think it’s going to be really tough for these guys on Saturday because we are less experienced.
“We want to challenge them, we want to see how they go and make it tough for them, and see if they can get a cohesion and a performance that allows them to come out with a result at the end of things.
“So there’s probably, to be honest, a third of the team that we thought would be consistent but once we started balancing things up, we just thought, ‘Right, he’s got a bit of fatigue, he’s got a bit of a knock’.
“There’s nothing serious other than Jordi [Murphy], obviously, and unfortunately he will be out for some time.”
It is certainly a radical and exciting selection for what is expected to be a sell-out against a side ranked 18th in the world and now coached by former Ulster coach Mark Anscombe.
Furthermore, with the potential for five more Test debuts off the bench in James Tracy, John Ryan, Dan Leavy, Luke McGrath and Niyi Adeolokun, those figures could rise to 80 and 35 by the end of Saturday’s game. So much for him being a conservative selector.
At the same time, it affords a number of players an opportunity to force their way into the reckoning for the return meeting with the All Blacks on Saturday week, with Peter O’Mahony (who will captain the side), Seán O’Brien, Paddy Jackson and Keith Earls all obvious contenders.
Although you would have thought that a first win over the All Blacks in 111 years might ringfence selection, save for the vacancy created by Murphy’s knee injury, Schmidt maintains that opportunity knocks.
“It is absolute genuine. There are players who will want to put their hand up and it’s very open-ended,” said Schmidt.
“I do think that there will be players who will come into the starting side or into the squad for next week’s game, but I know to get there they’re going to have to fully focus on this game and make sure that they get what they need to get done as effectively as possible, because I think the one danger is underestimating Canada.”
To back this up, Schmidt namechecked some of their European-based players such as DTH van Der Merwe and London Irish’s Ciaran Hearn.
“There’s enough there and we have to be really on our mettle this weekend and not give too much thought to what might happen next week,” he said.
The 31-year-old Holland has had a harder, more circuitous route to Test rugby than the 22-year-old O’Donoghue or 21-year-old Ringrose.
Reflecting on when each of the three caught his eye, Schmidt said: “I first saw Garry in his senior cup year playing for Blackrock College. He was kicking goals then from all over the place. I thought he had a super game in the final and was really impressive. I thought he was very lean, but again I thought he was quite a natural footballer and so I felt there was some talent there without a doubt.
“Jack first impressed me at under-20 level, particularly when he led the Under-20s in New Zealand. They got through and played in the semi-final in that tournament in Auckland and then they lost the third-fourth play-off, when he was injured for that.
“But I’d seen him play through that tournament and was impressed with him, and I spoke to him out at that tournament. He impressed me as a guy who was very level-headed and very driven to get to the highest level he possibly could.
“Billy, I remember him playing in an international of sorts for Munster [v Australia] where he as outstanding on a very wet night work-rate wise and I’ve kept a bit of an eye on him ever since then.
“The problem for Billy was that he disappeared again because he was behind the likes of Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan, Mick O’Driscoll and Donnacha Ryan, who were all long-time internationals. So for him to get his opportunity was very much squeezed, but he stuck it out and he’s done well this year.”
While Munster will be delighted for Holland and O’Donoghue, as well as David Kilcoyne, John Ryan and Donnacha Ryan, not to mention O’Mahony and Earls, it does weaken the province’s hand for their meeting with the New Zealand Maoris, which is every bit as tough as the Canadians. And then some.
IRELAND: Tiernan O’Halloran; Craig Gilroy, Garry Ringrose, Luke Marshall, Keith Earls; Paddy Jackson, Kieran Marmion; Cian Healy, Seán Cronin, Finlay Bealham; Ultan Dillane, Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony, Seán O’Brien., Jack O’Donoghue.
Replacements: James Tracy, Dave Kilcoyne, John Ryan, Donnacha Ryan, Dan Leavy, Luke McGrath, Joey Carbery, Niyi Adeolukun.