'There will be new guys challenging for spots' - Joe Schmidt willing to give youth a chance
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has left the door wide open for the tyros in the Ireland squad to stake their claim for a prominent place in his plans for the upcoming Six Nations.
As part of the 35-panel named for the opening two rounds of the competition, Schmidt included four uncapped players; CJ Stander, Ultan Dillane, Stuart McCloskey and Josh Van Der Flier.
Criticised at times as a conservative selector, the Kiwi coach still found himself in the firing line for the omission of Leinster centre Garry Ringrose. Regardless, the promising foursome are in an optimal position to feature to some degree against Wales on February 7 and away to France six days later.
With only Connacht remaining in European competition, it’s been anything but a stellar campaign for the Western outfits more lionised compatriots, yet Schmidt claims the disappointment for Ulster, Leinster and Munster has not all been in vain.
Namely how the respective head coaches have handed opportunities to the more callow members of their playing pool and put great priority on their development as professionals. The former Clermont coach has kept close tabs on the youngsters.
"I think that young players were given a really good chance because it [the Six Nations] is not the place to blood young players necessarily at the very height of Europe,” Schmidt said at the launch of the RBS Six Nations in London today.
“They filter in through the Pro12 and then into Europe and then into the test arena would be the normal way it happens. Sometimes people vault one of those qualification areas.
“Young players have been given a good opportunity. I have spoken to a number of them, some inside the squad, the likes of Ultan Dillane and at the same time I have spoken to ones that aren’t, the likes of Jack O’Donoghue who has had a really resilient and progressive season for Munster and Garry Ringrose who has had some impressive cameos and full performances for Leinster.
"At the same time you have a guy like Josh van der Flier who has really come into the frame this year and really impressed.”
- Joe Schmidt reveals IRFU contract won't allow him to coach the British and Irish Lions next year
- Joe Schmidt hits back at claims of 'exodus' of Irish players to England and France
- 'I've made peace with World Cup pain' - Tommy O'Donnell
Schmidt pointed to the refreshing element of injecting a well-established group of hardened campaigners with a dose of the fearless brio which youth invariably brings. And, notably, that the new boys are in contention and not simply there to hold tackling bags.
"You are always looking forward to seeing how some new guys go for us. I think there will be new guys challenging for spots. We are very open-minded with the squad we have got and who then goes ahead and plays against Wales. Those players are starting to force their way in and put pressure to get into the squad and then into match-day 23s .No matter what way that happens we know how tough that game is going to be,” he said.
Inevitably, the appointment of defensive coach Andy Farrell was put to Schmidt. Farrell, who was a member of the backroom team for England’s lack-lustre World Cup showing, will not take his place until the summer tour of South Africa.
In the meantime, he will be occupied with a part-time consultant remit at Munster. The former Leinster coach was effusive in his praise of the rugby league legend, and found him a worthy nemesis over the course of the last two championships.
"We're pretty excited about Andy coming in. Obviously I met Andy quite a while ago when he was playing for Saracens, when I visited their set up when I was back coaching the Blues. He has a bit of a presence about him.
"I was really impressed by the feedback the Irish national team players had about Andy on the Lions tour. They were really impressed with that he delivered there, and so he was always a guy we had high respect for.
"We always found England... we scored one try in each of the two internationals we played against them, that's a measure of how difficult they are to score against and so I think his experience and clarity when he's delivering, they're real strengths he will bring for us. I think he's excited about coming on board as well and I think he's going to add real value," he said.