Joe Schmidt has indicated that he will make changes to the Irish team.
Writing in the Irish Independent this morning, Cian Tracey reported that Joe Schmidt will make alterations to the Irish team following next weekend’s clash with England in Twickenham.
Although many supporters would like to see Schmidt introduce new blood ahead of Ireland’s fixture with England, travelling to Twickenham with an inexperienced XV could be a recipe for disaster.
Indeed, given that Ireland have already suffered a deluge of injuries, it is easy to understand why Schmidt would opt to keep unnecessary changes to a minimum.
Nevertheless, the recent injuries suffered by Sean O’Brien, Dave Kearney and Mike McCarthy, allied to those affecting Iain Henderson and Peter O’Mahony should enable the Irish coach to experiment with some of the younger members of his squad.
Donnacha Ryan Vs. Ultan Dillane
Given the absence of Paul O’Connell and Iain Henderson through retirement and injury respectively, Ireland’s depth at second row is currently being tested.
Although Devon Toner and Mike McCarthy have done little wrong, outside of being secure options at the line out, they offer little around the field. The same can be said of Donnacha Ryan, who no longer possess the pace that saw him become a back row option for Munster during the early part of his career.
Nevertheless, Ryan will most likely replace McCarthy in the second row for the remainder of the Six Nations.
However, event the most ardent Munster fans would like to see Ultan Dillane start against either Italy or Scotland.
Dillane’s mobility would allow Ireland protect possession in the wider channels, something that both Ryan and Toner would struggle to achieve if Schmidt adopted a more expansive approach.
Dillane’s pace was best illustrated during Connacht’s Challenge Cup fixture with Brive, when he covered a good deal of ground before putting in this try saving tackle.
The Composition Of The Back Row
Sean O’Brien’s hamstring injury will most likely see Tommy O’Donnell start alongside CJ Stander and Jamie Heaslip for the remainder of the tournament. However, could Schmidt use the loss of both O’Brien and O’Mahony to reshuffle the entire composition of his back row?
For some time now, fans have been calling for CJ Stander to start instead of Jamie Heaslip at number eight. Although Schmidt has accommodated both Stander and Heaslip, this should only be seen as a short term measure.
With one eye of the 2019 World Cup, why not move the big South African to eight, have O’Donnell, Chris Henry and Josh van der Flier fight it out for the seven jersey, and select Rhys Ruddock at blind side.
Although Ruddock has suffered more than his fair of injuries, he has been around the fringes of the Irish squad since 2009, but yet has only managed to accumulate seven caps. For player who was once thought of as being a potential superstar, this is a disappointing return.
Schmidt should therefore give the 25 year old an opportunity to prove himself on the international stage, rather than consistently selecting him in the wider squad at the expense of others.
Johnny Sexton or Paddy Jackson
Although fans will correctly argue that Johnny Sexton remains Ireland’s first choice fly half, questions are beginning to be asked over his long term future in the game.
Therefore, while Schmidt will most likely perceiver with Sexton in the 10 jersey, Jackson needs as much exposure as possible in the event of Sexton suffering a career ending injury.
Indeed it would be considered poor management if Jackson found himself starting for Ireland after spending much of his international career behind Ian Madigan.
While many will argue that Madigan’s move to France will at least see Jackson promoted to the bench, the Ulster playmaker needs as much game time as possible if the worst were to happen to Sexton.
The Composition Of The Back Line
As Schmidt named checked Stuart McCloskey in the Irish Independent article, it looks as if the Ulster centre will get his opportunity in the coming weeks.
However McCloskey inclusion could have knock on effects throughout the back line. Although Schmidt will most likely remain loyal to Rob Kearney at full back, most fans would like to see the more attack minded Jared Payne selected in the fifteen jersey.
Nevertheless, Dave Kearney’s injury gives Schmidt the opportunity to re-imagine Ireland’s back three. For some time now, Schmidt has selected his wingers based on their ability to recover box kicks rather than on their capacity to beat defenders.
However Schmidt could potentially partner Payne alongside two of, Craig Gilroy, Keith Earls or Simon Zebo, in a back three filled with pace.
He could also choose to give the very exciting Gary Ringrose his debut on the wing. Something Leo Cullen did very successfully earlier this season.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena