Schmidt hopes new faces can breathe life into flagging campaign at Twickenham
Published 26/02/2016 | 02:30
Before the start of the season, you would have gotten long odds on an Ireland team taking on England with Josh van der Flier, Stuart McCloskey and Ultan Dillane on the pitch, but tomorrow it will happen and many are wondering what took so long.
Coming into this season, the Leinster flanker had only played six games for the senior team, while Dillane had lined out eight times for Connacht. The most established of the three, McCloskey, had worn the white Ulster jersey 17 times.
World Cup commitments at Ulster and Leinster handed Van der Flier and McCloskey their opportunities and they have grasped it with both hands, while Dillane has thrived under Pat Lam this season.
Schmidt has been accused of conservatism in recent times, but had more experienced options than the three newcomers to call on.
He chose to take the risk when making five changes to his team. Van der Flier and McCloskey come in for Sean O'Brien and Jared Payne, who failed to recover from his hamstring injury in time, while Mike Ross, Keith Earls and Donnacha Ryan return to the team.
Dillane is on a bench that also features Ian Madigan and Rhys Ruddock, who have been selected ahead of Paddy Jackson and Tommy O'Donnell, who must wonder what he's done to deserve dropping out of the match-day 23 altogether.
"We were always going to give Josh an opportunity during the Six Nations," Schmidt said.
"He is a guy who has impressed right through the season and his application in training has been first-rate. He is rewarded with an opportunity and a huge responsibility to go out and capture that seven jersey in what will be a really tough test for him.
"Stuart is another guy who has worked really hard this season. There are some impressive elements to his game that we want to get the most out of.
"It is a great opportunity for him to express himself and to make sure that we are as watertight as we can be in what will be a tough area to defend, with some of the wing play that they have coming through there and with Owen Farrell and Jonathan Joseph testing him."
McCloskey's partnership with Robbie Henshaw is possibly the biggest ever to play for Ireland and brings plenty of ball-carrying potential to the equation.
"Its bizarre, isn't it?" Schmidt said with a smile. "It does offer an opportunity to get a bit of forward momentum.
"The one thing that would be a danger would be to call Stuart a one-trick pony. He's got the ability to pass in tight channels and across wide channels.
"We'd like to think that he can bring more to the role than just being used to carry the ball as a blunt instrument."
Dillane will have to bide his time before being introduced but Jack McGrath reckons the Kerryman is ready.
"He's a really physical fella, I've seen him tackle guys and he hits them pretty hard," he said. "All I want from my second-rows is to provide good weight in the scrum and that's what he's been doing, and he's a great lineout option."
England, meanwhile, have handed highly rated second-row Maro Itoje his first cap.