Home Rugby Stick Or Twist? Schmidt Set For Some Big Selection Calls This Week

Stick Or Twist? Schmidt Set For Some Big Selection Calls This Week

When Joe Schmidt spoke to the media after Ireland’s 20-32 loss to England in the Guinness Six Nations on Saturday, he mentioned how the Irish players were “very quiet” before the game. 

The Ireland head coach also revealed that the energy levels weren’t there.

Now, this poses a problem.

Why couldn’t the players get themselves up to the required mental state that comes with playing a rejuvenated England on home soil in the opening round of the Six Nations?

Conor Murray was up for mixed zone duty in the Aviva Stadium afterwards and as he was surrounded by journalists looking for a reason for the flat performance, he offered this explanation.

“I think they [England] were just a bit more pumped today for whatever reason. We’ll go through it and find out why that was.

Conor Murray Ireland Joe Schmidt Six Nations

“We had a great two weeks of preparation but for whatever reason, we were a little bit off it today and they’re a top side. They fairly deserved their win.”

It really shouldn’t come as a surprise to Ireland that England were going to be pumped up for this game.

They have been an upward curve since the November internationals, they have welcomed back some key players to their squad and they were also facing a team who handed them a comprehensive defeat at Twickenham last year, all the while hearing talk about Ireland supposedly being the best team in the world.

That’s going to motivate any team.

Ireland Six Nations Joe Schmidt

Fixing the problem that comes with a deficiency in intensity isn’t straight-forward but it will be something the squad and coaching staff will speak about with brutal honesty this week.

In reality, Schmidt probably won’t have to do too much in that regard.

Fixing this problem will be very much player driven. You can be sure that the likes of Peter O’Mahony, Johnny Sexton and Rory Best did not enjoy being beaten up by their rivals from across the Irish Sea.

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What Schmidt will need to focus on are some selection issues – most notably the case of Robbie Henshaw.

The 25-year-old had a tough day at the office at fullback on Saturday. His lack of game time at any level, let alone Test level, at 15 was evident as he struggled under the high ball and found it difficult to cover the backfield.

In his defence, the situation that Henshaw found himself in was exasperated by his wingers not covering as much space as he would have liked and that his teammates didn’t do enough to impede England’s chasers when aerial bombs were sent his way.

Robbie Henhsaw Joe Schmidt Ireland Six Nations

Does Schmidt stick or twist? That’s the big question.

Henshaw is unlikely to be as uncomfortable in Murrayfield with another week of training under his belt but Rob Kearney’s experience may be too difficult to resist as Ireland are in must-win territory when they travel to the Scottish capital.

There is also the caveat of the World Cup in mind.

Versatility is something which Schmidt holds very dear, especially in the context of only picking 31 players for the World Cup.

The prize which is on offer in Japan will no doubt take precedence over a Six Nations with the Grand Slam now out the window and a title which now looks unlikely.

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Elsewhere, injury concerns will dictate who lines out in Murrayfield on Saturday.

CJ Stander’s facial injury will likely rule him out and we could see Leinster’s Sean O’Brien come in to deputise for the Munster number eight and Jack Conan come onto the bench.

Devin Toner has a rolled ankle and if he is ruled out, he will join Tadhg Beirne and Iain Henderson as the other injured second-rows.

Quinn Roux looks best placed to be the man to replace him with Connacht teammate Ultan Dillane coming onto the bench.

Finally, Keith Earls’ “hip-pointer” injury will open the door for a very competitive back-three slot. Jordan Larmour was Ireland’s back-three replacement at the Aviva and he came on for Earls at halftime. Schmidt also has Andrew Conway and the adaptable Will Addison at his disposal.

Keith Earls Joe Schmidt Ireland Six Nations

All three players can also play fullback which adds another level of intrigue to Thursday’s team announcement.

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Ireland are expected to issue a squad update on Monday which should give a clearer indication of what the selection picture looks like for the clash with Scotland but no matter who Schmidt selects for that match, if they come off second best in the physicality stakes like they did against England, a second successive Six Nations loss could be around the corner.

That’s a problem that needs fixing.

About Sean McMahon

Sean is Head of Pundit Arena Rugby. Contact him on Twitter here: