Selections allow Schmidt to broaden the squad

Murray and D’Arcy not dropped per se, Ireland coach explains

Paul O’Connell and Joe Schmidt speak to the media at the Ireland team announcement this afternoon. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Paul O’Connell and Joe Schmidt speak to the media at the Ireland team announcement this afternoon. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

Even the language in Camp Ireland is changing under Joe Schmidt.

Six changes, benching the British and Irish Lions scrumhalf, a 74 cap legend cut loose before the weekend along with all the previous week’s debutants.

Perception being nine tenths of the law, none of them have been dropped.

“I think it’s a really good team,” Schmidt countered. “It broadens the squad. I think we have to have 30, 35 players with the ability to play international rugby. If we get too narrow in our selections . . . we are trying to grow the group to get competitive within the squad so we can be as competitive on the field as we possibly can be.”

So, Conor Murray wasn’t dropped, Eoin Reddan is merely getting an opportunity.

“It’s less ‘ahead off’ as ‘in place of’ because Conor started last week and it gives Eoin a chance to put his hand up . . . there was nothing particularly wrong with Conor’s game.”

It’s certainly radically different from the ethos proffered by the previous head coach.

“Coming into this autumn series we had a mindset we would try to grow the squad, not to have to rely on the same starting 15,” explained Schmidt.

“Look, we’re happy with Conor, but it’s about an opportunity. It’s the same with Gordon D’Arcy. It’s about giving an opportunity to Luke Marshall. ”

Paddy Jackson hasn’t been discarded, Ian Madigan simply covers more positions off the bench.

Simple. Sensible. But to presume Schmidt is not a ruthless coach would be folly.

D’Arcy’s reaction to being excluded, despite a hint of improving form, was not disappointment.

“He’s a pretty positive guy. What I’ll say about Gordon is he spent time with Luke during the week making sure he can be as good as he can be.”

Another notable fact is that Paul O’Connell returns to the starting XV for the first time since the draw in Paris in March, 2012.

He’s the official captain now.

“It’s great to be back, a really enjoyable time,” said O’Connell. “I think the squad has changed dramatically since I was last involved 18 months ago both in terms of the depth and a lot of depth in leadership in the squad as well.”

He nodded towards provincial captains like Peter O’Mahony and Jamie Heaslip. Two hugely important figures come Saturday.

The decision to stick with Devin Toner, the man who has orchestrated the Irish lineout on the summer tour of North America and last week against Samoa, even when O’Connell came in, is significant.

For starters, it should mean Ireland can re-scale the heights of former glories as a lineout superpower. O’Connell will share the responsibilities with him when it comes to calling.

“It will be a co-operative effort,” added the captain.

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