Springboks Test will tell Ireland where they stand - Schmidt
Joe Schmidt has warned that Ireland may take time to settle into this November series as the coach contemplates the might of South Africa in his first game of the season.
The arrival of the world's No 2 team brings back memories of last year's heroic tilt at New Zealand, but the Kiwi warned that the circumstances are very different this time around.
The selection of Robbie Henshaw ahead of Gordon D'Arcy as well as the retirement of Brian O'Driscoll has taken away vast experience from the backline, while Cian Healy and Sean O'Brien's ball-carrying threat was to the fore of Ireland's effort last year.
"We probably had a more settled team even though it was the third of three weeks," Schmidt said. "We probably had players I knew more about, guys like Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll in the midfield; a few other guys.
"There are a number of new guys either off the bench or in the starting line-up. It's really important to find out where we are, because the one thing I would always say is that high performance is never completely consistent.
"There are times when you dip and reload again. We're hoping that it's not a dip, that we've reloaded and we can go again, but we are missing some personnel who would have had a strong influence on the confidence and the continuity of the team."
The coach is an admirer of this Springbok team and challenged his team to raise their game across the field.
"We've got to be competitive at set-piece," he said. "We've got to be able to compete in and around the ruck area and we've got to be able to compete for that gainline."
The big talking point at Carton House yesterday was the selection of Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne in the midfield and Schmidt admitted Athlone native Henshaw in particular needed to be tested at the highest level.
"He's as ready as he's going to be after three caps and I think he'll be more ready after 10 caps," he said. "That's the nature of it. We will see continued improvement, but when do you start that staircase? We need to start now with Robbie and a number of other guys and that's why, through this series, there will be changes."
Schmidt stated his confidence in the fitness of Mike Ross and Rodney Ah You, while he said Felix Jones has been picked for the bench on form and not because he has any doubts over Rob Kearney's hamstring.
Ireland (v South Africa) - R Kearney; T Bowe, J Payne, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, S Cronin, M Ross; D Toner, P O'Connell (capt); P O'Mahony, C Henry, J Heaslip. Replacements: R Strauss, D Kilcoyne, R Ah You, M McCarthy, R Ruddock, E Reddan, I Madigan, F Jones.