Joe Schmidt sets out plans to rule the World
Madigan loses out to Jackson as tour party gives insight into plans for England 2015
Published 20/05/2014 | 02:30
AFTER two months in cold storage, the Ireland squad re-assembled in Ballsbridge yesterday to begin stage two of Joe Schmidt's operation.
With the Six Nations in the bag, the World Cup is beginning to loom large on the horizon. There may be 486 days to go until the kick-off but only 12 of them will be Ireland match-days.
Argentina will be under-strength next month, with their European-based front-liners kept in hand for the Rugby Championship, but Schmidt has resisted the temptation to take a fully experimental side to South America, instead introducing four new faces, giving some players a second chance, but largely sticking with the core of players he has used all season.
They don't all neatly fall into boxes, but there are a number of different categories that the Ireland hopefuls fall into this summer, with the Emerging Ireland squad for their trip to Romania yet to be named.
Argentina is seen as the starting point, so what do Schmidt's selections tell us about his plans?
THE LEFT BEHIND
Schmidt's selections rarely leave anybody too shocked but Ian Madigan has good reason to be put out today as he trains with a group of players he won't be joining in Argentina.
The Leinster fly-half's fate may have been sealed two weeks ago when he had an off-night at Ravenhill opposite Paddy Jackson, but he showed last weekend how much he has to offer in a variety of positions.
The coach has picked one recognised inside-centre for the tour in Luke Marshall, saying Darren Cave, Fergus McFadden and even Robbie Henshaw could cover the No 12 shirt, but Madigan's versatility appears to make him the perfect man to bring on a tour like this one.
Schmidt wanted three scrum-halves and two No 10s, and Jackson's form sees him travel as back-up to Johnny Sexton. It is a fitting end to a disappointing season for Madigan, but by leaving him out, Schmidt appears to be limiting his own options.
Otherwise, there were very few bones of contention, with Dave Foley perhaps unlucky that there are only three second-rows going, while Tommy O'Donnell's fall from favour continues, even though Schmidt asserted a verbal vote of confidence in the Tipperary man which wasn't backed up by a call-up.
Robin Copeland is another who could have made a mark on tour and it's a pity he won't get to work closely with Schmidt in Argentina.
GIVEN THE SUMMER OFF
September 2015 will loom large over everything Joe Schmidt does over the next 16 months and he has taken the decision to rest a number of front-liners for the end-of-season tour.
Sean O'Brien, Tommy Bowe, Sean Cronin, Dan Tuohy, Gordon D'Arcy and Cian Healy will all be given time to recover from their long seasons, get any minor procedures they might need and report for a full pre-season next year.
While most would be considered first-choice picks when fit, D'Arcy and Cronin will shift uncomfortably when tuning in to events in Argentina if the rivals for their jerseys can make a mark.
A year after he sat on the bench behind Madigan on the summer tour to the US and Canada, Jackson has a real chance to cement his place in the pecking order.
Neither is ready to challenge Sexton's pre-eminence, but the chance is there to impress Schmidt sufficiently to start next season as second choice.
Outside Sexton will be the new pairing of Ulster's Luke Marshall and either Henshaw or Cave, with the Connacht man the favourite to get the nod to start the first Test.
The No 13 shirt is up for grabs, but D'Arcy's hold on the inside-centre shirt is not as firm as it once was and Marshall will relish his chance.
On Saturday, Iain Henderson and Devin Toner were the best players on the pitch at the RDS and the duo are battling it out to partner captain Paul O'Connell in the second-row in Argentina.
With Tuohy rested while Donnacha Ryan and Mike McCarthy are injured, Henderson – who made an impact during his Six Nations cameo – has much to gain.
THE CORE REMAINS INTACT
It may just be two games against a depleted Argentina team, but Schmidt will want to maintain the momentum from the Championship win while adding to his options.
GIVEN ANOTHER CHANCE
Schmidt has re-opened his door to Simon Zebo and Dave Kilcoyne, who have yet to win a cap under the new coach after featuring heavily during Declan Kidney's final season.
Dave Kearney's serious knee injury has offered an opening for Zebo and Keith Earls – who has also yet to feature due to injury – and the former needs a big tour to arrest his fall from grace under the New Zealander, who does not appear to be convinced by his all-singing, all-dancing style.
The coach does not relish talking about the Munster wing and took issue with the idea that he was "not in his thinking" during this season. But, the fact remains that Ireland have used five wingers ahead of the Lion this season.
"There are still some things he will be working hard on in camp and he'll be given some direction about some other things that we do need," Schmidt said of Zebo yesterday.
"There are a few things. I think if you were objective on Friday night, you'd see a few things he needs to work on. And at the same time you'd definitely see a few of those things that he brings."
Zebo is just one of 30 hoping to catch the eye. Some are more comfortable in their positions than others, but with so little time to impress, the fortnight on tour will be key to breaking through.
Ireland squad for the tour to Argentina: Forwards: R Best (Ulster), J Cronin (Munster), R Diack (Ulster), I Henderson (Ulster), C Henry (Ulster), J Heaslip (Leinster), R Herring (Ulster), D Kilcoyne (Munster), J McGrath (Leinster), M Moore (Leinster), J Murphy (Leinster), P O'Connell (capt, Munster), M Ross (Leinster), R Ruddock (Leinster), D Toner (Leinster), D Varley (Munster). Backs: D Cave (Ulster), K Earls (Munster), R Henshaw (Connacht), P Jackson (Ulster), F Jones (Munster), R Kearney (Leinster), K Marmion (Connacht), L Marshall (Ulster), F McFadden (Leinster), C Murray (Munster), E Reddan (Leinster), J Sexton (Racing Metro), A Trimble (Ulster), S Zebo (Munster).