'We’ve confidence in Stu and Robbie'- Schmidt on untested midfield for Twickenham showdown
In starting him at outside centre for the first time as an international against England this weekend, Joe Schmidt believes Robbie Henshaw has been handed a chance to put two years of learning into practice.
In the immediate aftermath of Schmidt announcing his team to face England at Twickenham on Saturday, the prominent talking points were, of course, the Kiwi’s promotion of the uncapped Josh Van Der Flier and Stuart McCloskey to the starting XV.
Even in the face of an injury list in double figures, it felt unlikely the pair would appear before the final two games with Scotland and Italy.
However, Schmidt finally threw the type of selection curveball most of his detractors would have deemed beyond the realm of possibility. When including the equally uninitiated Ultan Dillane on the bench, it feels as though a ruse could be afoot. But, no.
When asked about his decision to bring in the tyros with Ireland are yet to earn a victory since beating France in the World Cup last October, Schmidt claimed that the newcomers had made welcome additions to the group and that there was no time like the present to be thrown into rugby’s ultimate crucible.
It seems like the move may have been accelerated by the fact Ireland are unlikely to competing for silverware come month’s end.
“They certainly don’t lack for enthusiasm and, as I said, they’ve knitted in very well in training. And that gives us a bit of confidence that they can slot in," Schmidt said at Carton House.
“It’s probably a step they haven’t been to before because you don’t know how quick it’s going to be and how physical it’s going to be. But, at the same time, you’ve got to do it at some stage for the first time. They’re both incredibly excited about the stage they’ll be doing it upon.
“It’s very disruptive [injuries]. One of the things that has aided us in the last two years is that continuity from week to week. I expressed it last week that it’s an opportunity to give guys an opportunity in a very tough environment and see how they equip themselves.
“Particularly because we haven’t really been afforded that opportunity in the last few years, having been right in the mix and trying to protect a lead right from the start of the championship.”
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Amid all the excitement, there was the slightly tempering subject of Robbie Henshaw, in the absence of Jared Payne, being asked to make his test bow in the number 13 jersey. What’s more, having to do so with McCloskey-an international debutant- as his midfield partner.
Keith Earls could have been called upon as he has before, or Luke Marshall. But Schmidt comprehensively explained his reasoning for not taking the safer options and, how Henshaw can now further distinguish himself on the highest stage.
“The bottom line is that we’ve got some really good confidence in Stu and Robbie. That’s the other part for us, pushing Robbie out a channel now.
“I think he’s been really well served with the experience of Jared; I thought he did an unbelievable job on one leg in the second half controlling the French attack. I think Robbie has had a really good window of opportunity to learn from him over the last 14 months.
“And to learn from the previous Six Nations when the spent the whole time with us learning the 13 role. For him to step up now is an exciting opportunity.”