Friday 6 December 2019

Experience set to win out as Schmidt's team weigh up tight selection calls

Simon Easterby
Simon Easterby
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

On the face of it, picking the Ireland team to face Australia would appear a straight-forward exercise for Joe Schmidt.

The coach and his staff are in a position of strength having rested 12 of the starting XV from the win over South Africa last weekend and lost just Jared Payne from the team that downed the Springboks.

However, team selection is never clearcut with the New Zealander who likes to introduce something different for each opponent, but has a strong trust in a core of players who have earned his respect in the field.

Yesterday, forwards coach Simon Easterby cautiously picked through the dilemmas facing the coaching team, but hinted experience will win out when it comes to the big calls.

Closest to his own heart is the availability of Rory Best who missed the first two November Tests due to a calf injury.

Sean Cronin did well in his absence against the 'Boks, while Richardt Strauss has also impressed, but Best is part of Ireland's leadership corps, started all 10 games last season and is likely to earn a recall based on his importance to the group and abilities on the deck.

"Rory trained today," Easterby said. "He stayed in and around camp for the last couple of weeks. It's a great position to be in, we've three very good hookers currently available to us, which is excellent and probably a real strength for us.

"Sean's continued his Leinster form into the South Africa game. He's dynamic, can break the game up and not many players can do that. He's got other things he has to work on constantly and works hard.

"It's the same with Straussy. He's come back from a long injury lay-off, but he's another one who's been very good in the environment, he trains really hard. He came in and started at the weekend, his lineouts were excellent, there was lots of good tempo in his game and he scrummed pretty well.

"Rory's probably at a different place in terms of his experience than the other two and you have to reward that experience sometimes in terms of knowing what a guy can do.

"He's only been out for a couple of weeks, having him available is a real plus."

The presence of Stuart Olding at yesterday's media briefing fuelled speculation that the Ulster colt could be a shock partner for Robbie Henshaw in the absence of the injured Jared Payne, but perhaps his superb running threat will be used off the bench.

Schmidt picked an inexperienced Ulster centre ahead of Gordon D'Arcy in the corresponding game against the Wallabies last year and Luke Marshall struggled.

With Henshaw still lacking experience, it would be a major gamble not to go with the Leinster veteran.

"Whoever partners him (Henshaw), whether it be Stuart or Darce, they've a big job to do because Jared and Robbie combined well," Easterby said.

"Darce has 80 caps now, you can't just produce that type of experience overnight and he's a big game player. Stu's gone really well for Ulster, going forward he's got good footwork, sees the game really well and can play in more than one position."

Otherwise, it appears to be as you were for Ireland with the back-row combination of Peter O'Mahony, Rhys Ruddock and Jamie Heaslip likely to link up again, despite being thrown together unexpectedly on the morning of the Springbok game when Chris Henry was ruled out at the 11th hour.

Despite the lack of an out and out openside, it looks like they'll be retained when Schmidt names his team tomorrow.

"You can look at and pick holes in any combination, but we were all very happy with what they did," Easterby said.

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