Sunday 25 September 2016

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt is set to tinker with his squad for Wales clash

Published 27/08/2015 | 15:19

Joe Schmidt will assess his options at the weekend
Joe Schmidt will assess his options at the weekend

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will use Saturday's warm-up clash with Wales as a last chance to tinker with his World Cup squad.

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A host of regulars will make their first appearances since the RBS 6 Nations title-winning match against Scotland in March but Schmidt will be more focused on running the rule over fringe candidates before finalising his 31-man squad, which will be announced on Monday.

Paul O'Connell will return to captain his country in his last international on home soil while other senior player s Jonny Sexton, Rob Kearney, Conor Murray, Robbie Henshaw and Peter O'Mahony all make their first appearances of the season.

In the pack, Connacht tight-head prop Nathan White makes his first start after coming off the bench to make his debut in the 28-22 win over Scotland earlier this month while t hreequarters Luke Fitzgerald and Dave Kearney are also hoping to play their way into Schmidt's trimmed-down squad.

Fitzgerald gets a run at outside centre as Schmidt ponders his back-line options, with Keith Earls switched to the wing after impressing on his return to international duty in the win over Wales three weeks ago.

Dave Kearney, who will make his first appearance since the 2014 Six Nations title-clinching win over France, is hoping to get the nod ahead of Andrew Trimble, who recently suffered a recurrence of a foot injury, and British and Irish Lions wing Tommy Bowe, who will both play for Ulster against Edinburgh on Friday night.

"Andrew played very well against Wales but it was his only 34 minutes in eight months so we wanted him to get more time than he would on the bench for us," said Schmidt, who is keeping several of the players guessing over the likely make-up of his World Cup squad.

"I'm very keen to have a last look at a number of players. P erforming this weekend is going to be real pressure cooker situation for them but that's what the World Cup's going to be.

"I know some of the players who play for their provinces this weekend are likely to be in the 31, some of them with us are potentially going to miss out., that's the nature of it ."

The front row seems to be genuine area of concern for Schmidt, who has lingering injury worries over Leinster duo Cian Healy, who underwent neck surgery in May, and Marty Moore, who has a foot injury.

However, Healy has stepped up his training this week and, according to the coach, could make his return against England in the final warm-up game at Twickenham on Saturday week.

"Cian is really picking up, he's doing really well," Schmdit said: "He trained fully Tuesday and Thursday and did all the contact.

"He's a lot more positive about where he can get to in the next two or three weeks and it gives us a bit of confidence as well.

"I wouldn't rule out some involvement (against England) the way he is going. It would most likely be off the bench. We may be looking to give him 20 minutes but we are also prepared to be patient."

The 33-year-old New Zealand-born White missed out of Ireland's autumn series after suffering an arm injury in training that subsequently required surgery but became Ireland's third oldest debutant against the Scots.

"He's gets a chance to build on what I thought was a good performance, albeit a cameo," Schmidt said.

Mike Ross's record as the only ever-present during coach Joe Schmidt's 20-game tenure will come to an end with uncapped Leinster prop Tadhg Furlong, 22, named on the bench.

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