Joe Schmidt explains his selections for England visit

Irish head coach says he has no intention of prematurely discarding Rob Kearney

Gerry Thornley and Gavin Cummiskey look ahead to Ireland against England, as Joe Schmidt names Leinster centre Robbie Henshaw at fullback. Video: David Dunne

 

Robbie Henshaw running as the Ireland fullback has been part of Joe Schmidt’s overall plan for some time now.

Rob Kearney’s shocker against the Scarlets at the RDS last Friday - one glaring missed tackle on flanker Dan Davis in particular – tipped the scales in Henshaw’s favour, Schmidt revealed, as England visit the Aviva stadium on Saturday.

“Robbie trained [at fullback] last week [in Portugal], he trained there a little it in November and [last summer]in Australia so it has been an option for quite some time.

“Rob ran out of time a little bit and we like the flexibility of Jordan [Larmour] on the bench. I thought he came on really well at 13 for the last 35 minutes against England last season.

“We’ve seen this as an option for quite some time,” Schmidt continued, “so it is not as much of a surprise to Robbie or the team as it may be to other people.”

Schmidt refused to be drawn on Henshaw at 15 in the past two seasons but it puts serious pressure on Kearney’s future in the team as he covers only one position so if the 32 year old is not starting Will Addison, Andrew Conway and Larmour offer versatility come the World Cup in Japan.

However, Schmidt has no intention of prematurely discarding the only Irish rugby player to win two Grand Slams and four European Cups.

“The risk is Robbie’s lack of game time, full stop. We felt the way he trained when we were away and this week that it was worth pursuing.

“Maybe even as a longer term option with only 31 going to the World Cup you need guys who can be versatile. There is probably a little bit of that as well as Robbie being a good player and recognised fullback anyway.”

Kearney is not injured so, along with Jack McGrath, the Leinster stalwarts have been dropped.

“Rob trained really well this week, piece by piece, he was a little bit slow on Monday, better on Tuesday, sharp today.

“We would expect that Rob will continue to make progress in that particular direction. He’s only really had that one game against Scarlets. It was probably a bit of rustiness that we saw in that game that helped tip the balance and give Robbie that opportunity in contrast to Rob.”

It also shelves the midfield conundrum as Garry Ringrose and Bundee Aki continue their Grand Slam partnership, this time against Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade.

On top of the Henshaw call, Josh van der Flier is named at openside ahead of Seán O’Brien.

“Seán always comes close to making teams when he is available,”

Schmidt smiled when asked about his key weapon for the last 20 minutes. “We know how robust he is out there, we know how much pressure he can put on the ball, we know how well he carries and so we want him to bring all that.

“Seán is incredibly game intelligent and in that last quarter that will be really important to us. They have a great bench, we have a good bench so that final quarter is probably where the game will be decided.”

The Ireland replacements shows one more interesting change as Dave Kilcoyne beats McGrath to provide loosehead cover for Cian Healy.

Turns out attendance at last week's warm weather camp in Portugal mattered more than being left at home to play for Leinster, as Kearney and McGrath have discovered to their cost.

They may come back into contention for Murrayfield next week as Schmidt is expected to rotate his squad with a view to Japan 2019.

As Schmidt also noted, Larmour’s versatility and form see him picked ahead of Kearney, Andrew Conway and Will Addison at number 23.

As expected, Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray resume their halfback partnership with Ulster’s John Cooney in line for a Six Nations debut.

Quinn Roux, despite not being named in the initial Six Nations squad, makes the replacements ahead of Ultan Dillane with Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne both injured at least until the Italy match in round three.

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