Former Ireland rugby captain, Brian O’Driscoll, believes Joe Schmidt will have one eye on the World Cup and will look to explore his squad depth throughout this Guinness Six Nations campaign.
While Ireland appear to have a settled starting XV, with their eye-catching performances at provincial level, fringe players such as Will Addison and Joey Carbery are fighting tooth and nail for starting positions.
Ireland suffered an injury crisis during the latter stages of the World Cup in 2015 and if they are to make it past the quarter-final stages for their first time in their history, they will need an extremely strong squad.
With that in mind, O’Driscoll believes that Schmidt will continually switch up his team throughout the five games.
“I definitely feel we’ll see a mixture of players. I don’t think we’ll see the same 23 playing through the Six Nations. Guys will get starts, I think Joey Carbery will get a start or two.
“I’d say he has a very clear idea of who 28, 29 of his 31 players are for the World Cup, but I’d see different combinations being used; be it in the back three or centres or half-backs.
“You’re going to need that for a World Cup and there’s no point in practicing in a warm-up game, as the Six Nations ultimately is – albeit a pretty big deal in itself.”
There are already hints that Schmidt is set to throw a few curveballs into his starting XV. Media reports earlier this week claimed that Robbie Henshaw will start this weekend’s opener against England at full-back with Garry Ringrose resuming his partnership with Bundee Aki in the centre.
The former British & Irish Lion predicts that Henshaw will return to the midfield at some stage of the competition and that we will also see Munster’s Chris Farrell in a green jersey if he is to be on the plane to Japan in October.
“To be honest with you, it’s really hard to try and get your head into Joe Schmidt’s head as to how he’s seeing things.”
“I feel like it will be Bundee and Garry [Ringrose] and that we’ll see Robbie later in the competition but that’s back to our early point, that we’ll see lots of combinations. I think we’ll see all four centres playing at some stage.”
“If Chris Farrell is going to be playing in the World Cup at some point, if he sees him as one of his centres, he’s going to need to play him in this Six Nations”
The build-up to Saturday’s highly-anticipated clash has included the usual swipes from Eddie Jones at the Irish set-up. The England coach again took aim at Johnny Sexton over his relationship with referees, while their defence coach, John Mitchell grabbed headlines earlier this week when he said Ireland would try to bore the sh*t out of England.
O’Driscoll maintains that the continued interest in these side-stories is feeding right into Jones’ hands.
“We heard it from him a couple of seasons ago, he somewhat distastefully started talking about concussions and how Johnny’s (Sexton) parents should be concerned and so on.
“It’s not the first time that we’ve heard him throwing in a little side story to remind referees and adjudicators – that do read the press as well about what to expect.
“There’s always something to talk about, here we are chatting about it. Eddie will be delighted that we’re not talking about his players that much.”
Former Irish international rugby player, Brian O’Driscoll and former England international and World Cup winning rugby player, Lawrence Dallaglio were at St James Gate to launch the ‘GUINNESS Clear’ campaign and encourage all rugby fans to drink responsibly throughout the GUINNESS Six Nations.
GUINNESS Clear is 100% H2O and available from all good taps nationwide.