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Sunday 20 April 2014

'I'll have no hesitation selecting Brian O'Driscoll if he is fully fit' - Joe Schmidt

Schmidt relieved to be back where he's most comfortable – the training pitch

Joe Schmidt is delighted to be back on the training pitch as he is ‘still getting used to’ being an international coach.

JOE SCHMIDT is a self-confessed DVD junkie, spending more hours than anyone should forensically examining footage of opposing teams and his own players.

During his three years with Leinster he was renowned for his Monday morning 'review sessions' when he would enthusiastically break down individual performances from the weekend having probably spent Saturday and Sunday nights watching the game on an endless loop.

His briefings about upcoming opposition were always just as detailed. Schmidt is a student of the game.

He delights in plotting how to break the opposition down, in introducing some innovative and intricate move to the training paddock, seeing it mastered and then witnessing it blossom in the competitive arena.

For the past eight months Schmidt has been in the habit of describing himself as "a coach without a team" as he continues to come to terms with his transition from club head coach to international one.

He readily admits it's been difficult and is something he is "still getting used to". There was an undoubted spring in his step at Ireland's team base in Carton House yesterday. To paraphrase himself, he's become 'a coach with a team' again this week.

HEALTHIER

There was also a much healthier glow to his features. Schmidt has been out in the fresh air putting his players through their paces. The months of darkened rooms and the dvd players have been – temporarily at least – replaced.

"It's been good," he smiled yesterday. "I've been on the pitch three times over the last two days and it's been hugely enjoyable.

"I haven't lost my voice yet which is surprising and something my wife will probably be disappointed about but to get back on the training pitch has been exciting.

"We're working through some things and have been showing some encouraging cohesion and clarity. The players understand what we want from them and there's an obvious collectiveness there that is exciting."

The sun shone brilliantly yesterday morning and the vibes from Schmidt's mustering of his troops in anticipation of the three-game series this month were just as positive, no doubt helped by the encouraging news on the injury front.

Brian O'Driscoll has trained fully all week and the coach will have "no hesitation" in selecting him for the game against Samoa if that is deemed the best course of action.

"If you were to ask Brian I am sure he'd say he will be able to play in all three games this month and in many respects we'll be led by him, he knows his body and what it's capable of," said Schmidt.

"Rory Best also trained on Tuesday so he's improving. And I expect that Sean O'Brien and Cian Healy will be able to train on Monday or Tuesday at the latest. They are both making really good progress with their rehabs."

It wasn't all sunshine and blue skies and the rain clouds did appear at intervals through the morning.

Jonathan Sexton flew back to Paris last night and the Ireland management don't yet know if Racing Metro will afford him the weekend off – "Racing own Johnny's playing services" – but Schmidt is hopeful.

"Johnny has played 13 games in 12 weeks. He's given them pretty good service and could do with a weekend off. He was a little fatigued at the beginning of the week when he joined us.

"It's an uncontrollable from our perspective. I've seen all his games and he's a really important ingredient for them. But he could definitely do with a weekend off."

The clouds have yet to clear over Paul O'Connell's calf injury. The totemic second row hasn't trained at all this week and is unlikely to either on Monday.

Schmidt is adopting a "wait-and-see" policy with regard to one of the favourites for the captaincy but did confirm that players unable to train on Tuesday will not be considered for the game against Samoa.

"Tuesday will be the cut-off point. That's the same with Johnny (Sexton). Paul will be cutting it fine but he's been on the pitch studying all our sessions and is keeping abreast of what we are doing.

"He's also very diligent when it comes to his homework. It's impossible to say if he'll be involved for Samoa at this moment. Monday will tell a lot."

Schmidt probably believes his research is more important now than ever for this is his first step in a brand-new career as national team coach. This fortnight of unfettered access to his players has been months in the planning and he's clearly enthused by their response.

"They enjoy being challenged and have enthusiasm for the tasks we are setting them," said Schmidt. "Adding a little cohesion and clarity to what we are trying to do is hugely important and it's been positive this week.

"We are throwing a couple of spanners in the works to see how they respond too and it's been great. We have three hugely difficult games coming up and we will see on Saturday week against Samoa how they are coping with everything.

"It's not a perfect world and I don't envisage everything will be perfect but getting a couple of the elements right would be a nice start to what we are about."

Schmidt has opted not to release the majority of his squad back to their clubs in an effort to avoid any more injuries.

Those who were called up as cover – Ulster's Andrew Trimble and Roger Wilson and Munster's Donncha O'Callaghan and Leinster's Martin Moore – are free to play for their sides while James Coughlan will also be available as a replacement to Munster.

"James feels he will benefit from getting some game time so he will travel with Munster and be on the bench for them.

"When the squad get back in on Sunday night we'll assess how everyone is and will, hopefully, know more regarding the fitness of those who sat out this week," he added.

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