Joe Schmidt’s options increase as he contemplates historic double

Seán O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony come back into head coach’s planning ahead of New Zealand Part II

No team, not in Dublin, not anywhere, beats the All Blacks twice. Just show up next Saturday and take the inevitable trimming, right Joe?

“Aw, I hope that’s wrong. One of the things we do is say: right, this is what we believe might work and try to put it together as best we can.”

The attention switches immediately to selection for New Zealand at a cram packed Aviva stadium.

Here’s what we know on that score:


1 Joe Schmidt listens to his gut.

2 He forensically pores back over every game.

3 He then turns to assistant coaches for their opinion.

4 He obeys his gut with supporting evidence.

No fresh injuries so the crucial decision is the make-up of Ireland’s backrow.

Schmidt: “I take quite a long time going back through the game.

“You get a gut feel post the game and I think there are some tough decisions . . .

“Then I try to crystallise those decisions with a really intensive look back,” he continued, “then I get together with the other coaches who put in their opinions and we try to judge what would be the best 15, 23, even 25.”

Presuming Jamie Heaslip and CJ Stander are nailed on eight and six, either Josh van der Flier or Seán O'Brien will wear number seven with Peter O'Mahony making a strong case to at least be included in the 23-man matchday squad.

Iain Henderson could recover from shoulder problems to provide backrow and secondrow cover as Ultan Dillane looks nailed on to start after this O'Connell-esque display.

So, somebody somewhere is going to be devastated by exclusion for what promises to be the Test match of 2016.

O'Brien seems to be brimming below his devastating best, but that is only ever seen against major opponents, so it appears to be a straight decision between the reliable young engine and tackle count of Van der Flier versus O'Brien's physicality over the ball, where Sam Cane and Ardie Savea will be lurking.

“Yeah, it’s tough. Backrow, back three, even frontrow there are some tough decisions.”

Keith Earls is pressing Simon Zebo for the 11 jersey or, at a push, Garry Ringrose showed enough – his disallowed try and two clean line breaks with offloads – to see Jared Payne switched to fullback and Rob Kearney dropped.

“It will be hopefully be the right squad to give the All Blacks another really good game.”

O’Mahony was sitting beside Schmidt after captaining Ireland for the third time. Another comeback game after a year sidelined with injury, O’Mahony ran the full 80 minutes. Clever communication with the referee and one clean turnover were his stand-out moments.

Was it enough to keep O’Brien at bay or see Van der Flier dropped?

“Look, I’ve another 80 minutes under my belt. It’s always nice to get back into an Ireland jersey after being out for a long time. All you can do is hope you have put in a good enough performance that you can add to the squad next week.”

O’Mahony adds to every squad he is a part of. Problem is so does O’Brien and Van der Flier.

Whatever starting XV Joe Schmidt fields shall be announced on Thursday, but this 52-21 dismissal of Canada provides plenty of moments for him to forensically analyse.

“It was disappointing not to be (in Chicago),” O’Mahony admitted.

“All you can do is try and stick your hand up, do the basics right, get through the game as well as you can.

“I thought a couple of young fellas really stuck their hands up. I thought Ultan was super. I thought Jack O’Donoghue had a fine game.

“A couple of first caps looked like they and been there a long time.

“Hopefully that young side gave the boss a bit of a headache.”

It is hugely encouraging to realise that this was Dillane’s first start for Ireland after five caps off the bench. He turned 23 nine days ago. His stats match the ferocity of his performance: 12 runs over 39 metres including one clean break in the first half. Four defenders beaten. One turnover. Nine tackles.

“I think he did really well,” said Schmidt. “His ability to carry ball and then carry it again and then get up and carry again was really impressive. He got off the line and made some good tackles as well.”

Typically, Schmidt pauses before laying mild criticism near the Kerryman’s feet. “I think we would have liked to get more lineout pressure on them. I felt their lineout was better than it was in the World Cup. At the same time I though, across the board, Ultan did really well.”

And what of the enormous challenge that comes next? Perhaps the greatest challenge of Schmidt’s and in the history of Irish rugby – Why not, it is the All Blacks seeking revenge.

The All Blacks beat Italy 68-10 with Brodie Retallick returning and Rieko Ioane, the giant teenage winger, scoring on debut.

"Yeah, I think we probably got them at an opportune time," said Schmidt of the 40-29 victory in Chicago. "They had 18 wins in a row and while they spent a lot of time together, a lot of that time they had Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock in their secondrow.

“To have that big reshuffle in the secondrow and getting three of their lineouts in the first half gave us access to the ball and I thought we did really well with it, that’s how we accumulated their points.”

Schmidt also highlighted their loss of Ryan Crotty on 25 minutes.

“He had been the heart of their midfield in organising defence and striking.

"That and losing George Moala so Ardie Savea ended up on the wing allowed us manage the end game with more calmness.

“Now they have a very close reference point. They will come with a really good plan. They are incredibly well coached and prepared physically.

“The rate they play at, if they have the ball, you are under pressure if they have got it. They might have more access to it if they have got their secondrow back.”

Seán O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony deny teams possession. Always have, always will.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent