Thursday 24 August 2017

Strength in depth must be pleasing for Schmidt

Jack Conan during squad training at Ichikawa City, in Chiba, Japan. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Jack Conan during squad training at Ichikawa City, in Chiba, Japan. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

God be with the days when you dare not change a winning side or further back again when the Irish team was harder to get off than to get on.

And while there may be 11 Irish Lions in New Zealand, still, despite thumping the Japanese in the opening Test in Shizuoka, Joe Schmidt has managed to come up with six changes in personnel and two positional switches for the final Test of the season in Tokyo tomorrow (kick off 6.40am Irish time).

It is a fair indication as to where Irish rugby is now at - ranked third in the world. The overall aim ahead of the more competitive return to Japan for Rugby World Cup 2019 is to have three competing for every position, in other words an Ireland senior squad north of the 40-player mark. It is a realistic aspiration and again given the balance between results, performance and personnel (specifically new caps), the main man is again going about his business in the most productive way.

The winning objective hasn't been lost and that will still be the bottom line come the final whistle tomorrow. Schmidt doesn't do losing particularly well, however impish the smile. So many have put up their hand but in particular Jack Conan, Dan Leavy, Cian Healy, Keith Earls and both scrum-halves (Kieran Marmion and McGrath) have been outstanding. It's hugely encouraging too to have genuine rookies like Jacob Stockdale, Kieran Treadwell, Andrew Porter, James Ryan, Rory Scannell and Rory O'Loughlin step up to the mark. We can expect another in the queue behind Conor Murray to state his scrum-half case when Ulster-bound John Cooney makes his international debut off the bench. Beyond that, Andrew Conway makes for a very interesting selection at full-back; a position on the Ireland team which I think it fair to say at this point in time, and thinking ahead to November, is wide open.

Expect a much more competitive home challenge but take the 'Wolfhound' puppies to make it three from three.

Irish Independent

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