With Schmidt involved there's always a chance
Published 02/11/2016 | 02:30
Jerome Kaino was surprised at the omission of Sean O'Brien and Peter O'Mahony from the trip to Chicago, but perhaps we have less of an excuse.
"Are they not travelling?" he asked. It's not like the All Blacks flanker was unaware of O'Brien's situation. "I thought Sean O'Brien was… he's had a few consecutive games with Leinster and he got that Leinster 'A' game under his belt and I thought he was looking pretty good.
"When you look at 2013 when we just beat them, Sean O'Brien was the spearhead of their physicality and their contesting at the breakdown."
They say its hard predicting a Martin O'Neill starting 11; hands up who didn't have O'Brien or O'Mahony in the 27-man party?
Few coaches in world sport can make such decisions, free from questioning or critique, but Joe Schmidt can, 'Joe knows best' being the broad consensus.
From afar, one presumes he only wants players at peak fitness involved. In these pages last week, Jonathan Sexton admitted: "One of the lessons we learned from that New Zealand game (is) we probably weren't fit enough. We tired badly at the end. We probably learned that the subs have to have more impact when they come on."
Kevin McLaughlin's stats for his 25 minutes on the field that day were akin to a below-average 80 minutes in the Pro12. Things are manic against the All Blacks.
In his new autobiography, Paul O'Connell talks about the sense of comfort he felt playing in a Schmidt team. He no longer had to worry if his team-mates knew their roles or were ready for action.
Schmidt took care of that. Does Sean O'Brien have the requisite number of minutes under his belt to contribute next Saturday? Probably. But just contributing isn't enough. Most coaches are swayed by reputation. It is forever incongruous to associate the smiling, gentle Schmidt with the ruthless decision-making. Sexton was asked for his reaction to Schmidt staying on until the 2019 World Cup. He was happy of course, but instantly wondered aloud about Schmidt's propensity for dropping star names who aren't performing. Schmidt in charge means more stress and worry, even for Sexton.
One remembers that famous story weeks into Schmidt's Leinster tenure. During a video session, a point came where Brian O'Driscoll had dropped a poor pass.
The passer was pulled up on his sloppy effort, but before moving on, Schmidt asked, "But Brian, was it a pass that a world-class centre should catch?" One can imagine the silence as the room digested the ramifications of the question.
O'Driscoll is no longer around of course, nor is O'Connell and Ireland go without O'Brien and O'Mahony. But none of them were in Cape Town last summer. And neither was Johnny Sexton. Where there is Joe Schmidt, there is big belief and there is a chance.