Joe Schmidt: Jordan Larmour picked ahead of Simon Zebo on form
Ireland coach says selecting Scarlets secondrow Tadhg Beirne is ‘complicated’
Although Simon Zebo’s exclusion from Ireland’s 36-man squad for the opening two rounds of the Six Nations was, like his omission from the Guinness Series, due to the Munster full-back’s decision to relocate to Racing 92 at the end of the season, Joe Schmidt today intimated that Jordan Larmour had edged Zebo primarily on form.
“He is in consideration like anyone else currently playing in Ireland. We felt Jordan was probably playing at a level that was appropriate to select him,” said Schmidt at today’s annual Six Nations media launch in the Syon Park Hilton in London.
“Simon is great value to have in the squad, irresistible charm about him; always smiling, positivity great. By his own standards he didn’t have a great day in Paris a few weeks ago. It’s crucial at the time of selection that we know guys are in good form. There’s a bit of time in the Six Nations with Pro14 games that he can still strike a game,” said Schmidt, which suggests the door has not been entirely closed on Zebo for the Six Nations.
The Irish head coach also said he’s been a fan of Larmour’s since “he was fresh out of St Andrews,” adding his “first time in camp was probably 16 months ago. We’ve spent a bit of time having him in. It’s potentially to accelerate his progress into a matchday squad and a starting XV.
“The most visible things are his ability to accelerate, change direction, but he’s skilful, effective in the air, good passing skills and commits to the physical as well. He’s a really good kid and that’s appealing as well. We like the balance of that back-three or those six players who are covering it.”
Tadhg Beirne has committed to joining next year, but although his game has flourished at the Scarlets, his ongoing commitments there for the remainder of this season, plus his game time to date, counted against him.
“It’s a complex one when they’re playing away from Ireland, and he’s committed to coming back to Munster next year and that’s super.
“We had a really good conversation lately. The problem with Tadhg is that if we take him to Spain we’re required to make him back available for the Scarlets. He’s played 1350 minutes already this season, our players don’t really play so much.”
“Because he’s so resilient and because he plays so well, I thought he was huge in the last two games, he’s going to come in and visit us and we’ll get to catch up again. I’ve known him since he was at Leinster, he’s a really committed young man as well. I wouldn’t rule him out completely, but it is complicated.
“When we have those camp weeks. He’s got to go back and be available for Scarlets. That intermittent involvement with the squad, when it’s your first involvement, that’s one of the things that tipped the balance away from him. And I thought James Ryan was really good agaimst Montpellier, Iain Henderson is playing big.”
“When you stack that up and you’ve still got guys like Kieran Treadwell and Billy Holland working hard playing well in Ireland, you’re always trying to get that balance right about selecting Tadhg with that intermittent involvement and high game minutes. It just is a little bit complicated but that will cease at the end of the season, and that will be an opportunity.”
Eddie Jones was in ebullient form, and as talkative as ever, re-asserting his view that Ireland are favourites and England are underdogs, but Schmidt laughed this off by warning that his English counterpart is liable to throw in the odd grenade or three.
“It must be on the back of having 12 teams to select from and the eight days he’s had in camp as opposed to us having three. I know Eddie from old, and I know he’s going to throw in the odd grenade, and fair play to him for doing it. It keeps us on our toes.”
“We’ve got to come up with some clever riposte, but we’re not clever enough to do it well. We’ve got 13 players injured, missing some senior guys, like Sean O’Brien, and Jared Payne pivotal to us the last time we won the Six Nations, and he’s only played once in the last year. You can always reflect on who you’re missing. You can reflect on that but you’ve got to focus on who you’ve got.”
Schmidt confirmed that David Kilcoyne won’t be fit for Ireland’s opener against France in Paris on Saturday but that Jacob Stockdale should be training by the end of the week.
Of the French, who are under a new head coach in Jacques Brunel and who have six uncapped players in their squad, Schmidt said: “They could have been 10-0 up against us in Dublin. They didn’t look too messy against us then. They will be a real threat. How quickly can they gel? I’m impressed. I think their new players are a real threat. There’s going to be some interesting challenges for us.”
Schmidt and Rory Best were obliged to fly in from the squad’s five-day camp in southern Spain, and this was apparently as much the idea of the senior players as the coaching staff.
“Part of it was the players felt it would be a good idea, I felt it was a good idea as well. We knew this season would be particularly tough, it’s been seven tough weeks so the first thing is to regenerate a bit then really roll our sleeves up.
“We get into our own little bubble, the conditions are consistent. In the past occasionally we’ve had a really heavy frost which caused the ground hard to train on. It’s hard to do organisational work. Just to try to get everyone organised again it’s good to be able to do it in consistent and relatively fine conditions.”