Joe Schmidt looks for advice as he tries to decide World Cup squad
Ireland boss admits even selecting a 46-man party for mid-June is proving a headache
Joe Schmidt says the experience of Less Kiss will be invaluable when selecting Ireland’s squad for this year’s World Cup. Photograph: Inpho
In the aftermath of the disappointing Irish performance and defeat to the Barbarians in Thomond Park on Thursday night, Joe Schmidt gave little pointers as to the composition of his World Cup squad, and admitted the enlarged squad of around 46 to be announced in mid-June was also causing the coaching ticket some anguish.
Admitting he had never done this before, Schmidt also revealed he had read World Cup reports from his predecessors and said the role of his assistant Les Kiss would be invaluable given he had been through this process with Declan Kidney.
At this point four years ago Conor Murray was breaking into the Munster team for their Pro12 semi-final and final victories over the Ospreys and Leinster. Then beginning the 2011-12 season as a notional fifth scrum half out of five in the enlarged Irish squad he made the cut ahead of Tomas O’Leary and Peter Stringer, before going on to be Ireland’s first-choice number nine by the end of the tournament in Australia.
There appears to be no prospective bolters this time around, although if there is to be one, Schmidt hinted Stuart McCloskey or Noel Reid might be candidates given the number 12 cupboard is not over-flowing.
“What we’ll do is that the coaches will get together tomorrow morning and have a look at what we found out about some of the players. We know we’ve got to make some decisions post-Saturday. We’ll get up to Belfast and have a look at a few more players in the Guinness Pro12 final and that will really then give us a bit of a platform to make some selections.”
“We got together for a couple of hours today and couldn’t make our minds up. Some of what we decided was let’s have a look tonight, and let’s get across the Emerging (Ireland) tour and have a look at another couple of guys over there. That’s partly why Stuart McCloskey and Noel Reid didn’t play tonight, and Rhys Ruddock didn’t play tonight. They’re on the Emerging tour and we’ll get a look at them then.”
“But it was even good to have them in the environment to see them train and to see how well they’ve fitted in. Noel has obviously been with us before when we went to Argentina. Rhys has played a lot of games with us but to get Stuart McCloskey in was really good value and he has slotted in with ease.”
“We tried to narrow it down right now and say what would the 31 look like? What would he 46 look like or would it be 47 or 45? I think it is really difficult and I’d have to say today was another piece in the puzzle that hopefully we can put to give ourselves a little bit more clarity and from that we’ll got to Belfast on Saturday and get together on Sunday and start to work out how things are shaping.”
Luke Marshall had a fairly solid outing, before rhe introduction of Paddy Jackson shift to Ian Madigan. “We had all sorts of combinations today, to be honest. I haven’t done this before, I know I’m going to get a few things wrong, because it is inevitable when you first go into something. Is it a 17/14 split? If it is a 17/14 split, can you take three out-halves and three scrum-halves - that leaves you quite light elsewhere. We have players who are quite versatile in that back five, will that suffice?”
Schmidt even joked that he might take some advice from the punditry world, which seems rather unlikely. “I’ll try and get a look at them, get some guidance because it is tough. It is especially tough when you don’t have a lot of recent games. We get quite a good lead in to the World Cup, but we don’t get a great lead in to making selection decisions in two months time. So, as I say, it’s a learning experience for me as well.”
Significantly, he did talk at length about the leadership Chris Henry has brought to the group, but one of the reasons for Schmidt’s reticence in making cold and hard decisions now is the risk of injuries scuppering any plans.
“I saw Conor (Murray) go down here last weekend and thought ‘that could be a total change in our thinking’, because Conor would obviously be in our squad. Therefore you start thinking about ‘right, what are our alternatives?’ And that’s something that is very, very difficult, because you try to keep a balance of experience as well.”
“Conor’s experience might allow someone who’s less experienced to be involved,” he added, which seemed to be dangling a carrot in front of Luke McGrath, who was sitting alongside him, “and if those balances get upset by injury then it may mean that you re-jig the whole position, the positional mix that you’re looking at.”
“So it is a little bit complicated, and it is definitely restrictive. Because even week to week and you’re thinking that you might have to make changes because of injury, how long’s that injury going to be, because if you replace a player he can’t play again in the tournament, and therefore you’ve got to have good cover there.”
“As I say, I’ve spoken to coaches who have been to the tournament, and I’ve read the reviews from the tournament in the past, and tried to learn from those so I minimise my errors. But as a coaching staff, Les is a guy who’s really important to us, because he’s been there and understands the conundrum that it is. But for myself and Simon, again Feeky’s been there last time, but we’re trying to work it out as best we can.”
Jack McGrath will not face any censure for the yellow card he received against the Barbarians in Thomond Park on Thursday night for kneeing the Georgian lock Konstantin Mikautadze in the back. The yellow card was deemed sufficient punishment give the match citing commissioner did not take any action within the stipulated two hours of the full-time whistle.