Thursday 22 February 2018

Ireland coaches facing dilemma

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt admits to having selection dilemmas
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt admits to having selection dilemmas

Joe Schmidt has admitted Ireland's coaches sat down to thrash out their World Cup selection on Thursday and " couldn't make our minds up".

Head coach Schmidt called his coaching staff to a selection meeting just hours before Ireland took on the Barbarians in Limerick, and conceded at the end of that conversation there were as many questions as answers.

Schmidt is at pains not to narrow down his options as the autumn tournament hurtles into view, and is keen to see out the domestic season before composing his training squad.

Ireland's coaches will meet again after Saturday's Pro12 final and reassess their options, but Schmidt is unlikely to name a specific training squad like other national bosses.

"We got together for a couple of hours on Thursday and couldn't make our minds up," said Schmidt.

"Some of what we decided was 'let's have a look at the Barbarians game, and let's get across the Emerging Ireland tour and have a look at another couple of guys over there'.

"That's partly why Stuart McCloskey and Noel Reid didn't play (against the Barbarians), and Rhys Ruddock didn't play. They're on the Emerging tour and we'll get a look at them then.

"But it was even good to have them in the environment to see them train and to see how well they've fitted in.

"Noel has obviously been with us before when we went to Argentina.

"Rhys has played a lot of games with us but to get Stuart McCloskey in was really good value and he has slotted in with ease.

"We tried to narrow it down right now and say what would the final squad of 31 look like, what would a 46 look like or would it be 47 or 45.

"I think it is really difficult and I'd have to say Thursday was another piece in the puzzle that hopefully we can put to give ourselves a little bit more clarity.

"From that we'll go to Belfast on Saturday and get together on Sunday and start to work out how things are shaping.

"We know we've got to make some decisions post-Saturday.

"We'll get up to Belfast and have a look at a few more players in the Pro12 final and that will really then give us a bit of a platform to make some selections."

Ian Madigan and Paddy Jackson both ran at fly-half during Ireland's frustrating 22-21 defeat to the Barbarians at Thomond Park on Thursday.

Johnny Sexton is still on club duty with Racing Metro, while Ian Keatley will turn out for Munster against Glasgow in the weekend's Pro12 showpiece.

Schmidt admitted he has wrestled so far with his first World Cup squad selection conundrum, remaining unsure whether he can squeeze three fly-halves and three scrum-halves into the final 31-man roster.

"We had all sorts of combinations on Thursday, to be honest," said Schmidt.

"I haven't done this before; I know I'm going to get a few things wrong, because it is inevitable when you first go into something.

"Is it a 17/14 split? If it is a 17/14 split (between forwards and backs), can you take three out-halves and three scrum-halves - that leaves you quite light elsewhere.

"We have players who are quite versatile in that back five, will that suffice?

"It is especially tough when you don't have a lot of recent games.

"We get quite a good lead in to the World Cup, but we don't get a great lead in to making selection decisions in two months time.

"So, as I say, it's a learning experience for me as well.

"I've spoken to coaches who have been to the tournament, and I've read the reviews from the tournaments in the past, and tried to learn from those so I minimise my errors.

"But as a coaching staff, Les (Kiss) is a guy who's really important to us, because he's been there and understands the conundrum that it is.

"But for myself and Simon (Easterby), again Greg Feek's been there last time, but we're trying to work it out as best we can."

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