'Surprised' Schmidt raises tensions over availability of top Irish stars
LEINSTER coach Joe Schmidt has fired the first salvo in a potential club versus country row after admitting yesterday that he would be "pretty surprised" should Ireland's top international players be available for the early rounds of the Magners League.
On Monday, Ireland manager Paul McNaughton explained how the Player Management Scheme would allow the top international players to feature in the early league games, in contrast to last season when many did not return until rounds four or five.
McNaughton said the majority would be available to play for their provinces when the league kicks off next week with "seven or eight" not made available until round two.
However, at the Magners League launch in Cardiff yesterday, Schmidt said Leinster's pre-season had been based on the prospect of being without their Ireland stars for the early stages of the campaign.
"I guess I'd just ask you to confirm it. It's news to me and I've been in pretty close talks with them (the IRFU)," he said. "I would be surprised if that is the situation.
"One of the chief things at the moment, which surprised me about players being available, is they're on a strength and conditioning phase, they're not even available to play rugby at the moment.
"They've been doing an eight-week pre-season, of which they're in week five, so if you do the maths they're not really training with us in the same way as the young players are, or the players returning from injury -- players like Sean O'Brien and Luke Fitzgerald, who are full international players -- so from that perspective it is really difficult, because they are not on the same programmes.
"They're not sort of part of our group yet. That's as difficult as anything, getting rhythm in preparation."