Denis Leamy questions Schmidt selection
Reds legend claims coach's faith in Leinster fringe men could damage World Cup prospects
DENIS LEAMY has questioned Joe Schmidt's selection policy after the Ireland coach dropped Paddy Jackson from his squad for tomorrow's Six Nations title decider against France.
The former Ireland No 8 criticised the former Leinster coach's reliance on players from his old club who are not first choice at Heineken Cup level.
Jackson's replacement Ian Madigan has struggled for opportunities this season and has yet to feature in the Six Nations, but the coach believes his ability to cover more positions across the backline gives him the edge over the Ulsterman.
His inclusion is one of two changes to the match-day 23, with Peter O'Mahony's return from injury seeing Iain Henderson drop to the bench at the expense of Rhys Ruddock, who will travel as cover along with Connacht's Robbie Henshaw.
France have made four changes to their starting XV, with 19-year-old Toulouse sensation Gael Fickou named in the centre, Remi Tales brought in at out-half, Dimitri Szarzewski back at hooker and Louis Picamoles named at blindside.
Henderson is the only non-Leinster player on the Ireland bench and Leamy reckons that a number of Munster first-teamers such as Simon Zebo, Donnacha Ryan and Tommy O'Donnell – who was ruled out of the Italy game with injury – would be better options for the daunting trip to Paris.
"I think what rankles with Munster people – and I suspect some folk in Ulster – is that guys who aren't first choice in Leinster are still good enough for the national squad," Leamy writes in his Irish Independent column.
"I would have to disagree with some of the calls. Tommy O'Donnell lost his place on the bench, I think he is a better player than Jordi Murphy.
"I would argue that Donnacha Ryan brings more to the table than Rhys Ruddock and you just have to wonder what Simon Zebo – a Lion last summer – has to do to get back into the squad.
"Paddy Jackson has a more rounded game at the moment than Ian Madigan.
"The World Cup is just a year and a half away. The circle will need to be widened and not having done that in the Six Nations narrows the opportunities."
Leamy conceded that Schmidt's selections would be justified if Ireland win against France and claim a second title in five years even if he feels they will leave Ireland short in the long term.
"It would be the perfect start to Schmidt's reign," the Tipperary man writes. "It's long overdue, but I think their superiority will win through despite all the psychological baggage."