Wednesday 23 October 2019

Comment: Here's how Joe Schmidt might get around the tricky challenge of rotating his squad this November

Balancing selection over four November Tests will be key to a successful month for Ireland

Schmidt is expected to leave a number of front-liners behind when he takes a squad of around 26 to Chicago for the opening game against Italy. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Schmidt is expected to leave a number of front-liners behind when he takes a squad of around 26 to Chicago for the opening game against Italy. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

For most, November is about one thing: New Zealand on the 17th. Nineteen of the players named by Joe Schmidt yesterday won't be in the match-day squad for the visit of the world's No 1 side and the next three weeks is all about proving to the coach that you are good enough to feature.

The Kiwi is expected to leave a number of front-liners behind when he takes a squad of around 26 to Chicago for the opening game against Italy.

Those staying at home will be preparing for the Tests against Argentina and New Zealand with the coach expected to rotate heavily.

Each week brings with it a different priority as the coach looks to find out about some options, test some others and gather as much information before he hands them back to their provinces. Last year, every member of a 38-man squad saw action and, while there are four extra bodies to include, there is also an extra week to accommodate them with the addition of the clash with Conor O'Shea's Azzurri.

Some players will feature for their provinces this weekend, others will get the weekend off depending on their recent workload.

And when they assemble in Kildare before departing for the Windy City, the coach is likely to have a good idea in his head about who he'll use when over the course of the month.

So, how might he do it?

Game 1: Ireland v Italy

The squad that makes its way to Chicago is expected to be filled with players either short of game-time or unlikely to be in the starting mix for the two big games in Dublin.

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Given Ireland will only return from the States on the Monday before the Argentina game, there is a tight preparation window for those who make the trip and so it makes sense that those who travel will be largely kept on the bench. Schmidt may use this game to hand debuts to Will Addison, Sammy Arnold or Ross Byrne, while it looks a prime opportunity to hand Joey Carbery a valuable starting slot.

Predicted line-up: W Addison; J Larmour, S Arnold, S McCloskey, D Sweetnam; J Carbery, L McGrath; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, F Bealham; T Beirne, Q Roux; D Leavy, S O'Brien, J Conan. Reps: R Herring, D Kilcoyne, A Porter, D Toner, J Murphy, J Cooney, R Byrne, A Conway.

Game 2: Ireland v Argentina

Schmidt sprung a surprise with his team to face the Pumas last season when he included Adam Byrne on the wing and James Ryan in the second-row and he may feel there is some scope for experimentation again.

Argentina have shown signs of life in the Rugby Championship and the return of Stade Francais' prop Ramiro Herrera will help fix their scrum, but seven days until the All Black showdown Schmidt will likely look to balance the selection.

In some areas, combinations will be key, in particular at half-back where he is missing Conor Murray and will want to give his player of choice a game with Johnny Sexton before starting him against the best team in the world.

Predicted line-up: R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, K Marmion; J McGrath, R Best, T Furlong; I Henderson, T Beirne; P O'Mahony, J van der Flier, CJ Stander. Reps: S Cronin, C Healy, A Porter, James Ryan, D Leavy, L McGrath, J Carbery, R Henshaw.

Game 3: Ireland v New Zealand

The big one, the success of the window rests on how Ireland perform against the All Blacks and Schmidt will be determined to lay down a World Cup marker against a potential quarter-final opponent.

As such, he'll treat the selection as he would a knockout game with all of the big guns available starting. With so many front-liners fit and available, it is a fiendishly difficult selection call and some world-class names will miss out.

Much will depend on training-ground form, but the coach will also look for his big-game players to deliver.

Predicted line-up: R Kearney; K Earls, R Henshaw, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, K Marmion; C Healy, R Best, T Furlong; I Henderson, James Ryan; P O'Mahony, D Leavy, CJ Stander. Reps: N Scannell, J McGrath, A Porter, T Beirne, S O'Brien, L McGrath, J Carbery, J Larmour.

Game 4: Ireland v USA

After two bruising encounters with Rugby Championship big guns, Schmidt is likely to use the clash with the Eagles as a chance to have a look at the rest of the squad. Not that he'll be taking a team that beat Scotland last season lightly as he looks to end the window on a high.

Predicted line-up: A Conway; J Larmour, S Arnold, S McCloskey, D Sweetnam; J Carbery, J Cooney; J McGrath, R Herring, A Porter; D Toner, T Beirne; J Murphy, S O'Brien, J Conan. Reps: S Cronin, C Healy, John Ryan, Q Roux, J van der Flier, L McGrath, R Byrne, W Addison.

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