Comment: Big winner from Ireland team selection is a man whose season was far from what he had wanted it to be
We saw this coming only in the way you see a signpost at the last minute. And then try and calculate should you keep going and turn back, or risk a late swerve.
Joe Schmidt’s team selection for Suncorp on Saturday is a new chapter in the handbook on touring. Heretofore it started with the premise that you kicked off the series with the best you could muster, and work your way from there. Instead the Ireland coach is spreading the load from the off.
In the process he has raised the stakes for all concerned. If Ireland lose in Brisbane then it immediately puts pressure on the tourists to dig themselves out of a hole when, at the end of their season, they would rather lean on their shovels than use them for shifting earth.
If they win then the boost for the group would be turbo charged, with a raft of big hitters to return for Melbourne. And for the Wallabies, the same prospect would be woeful.
In the medium term, the implications of a win would be hugely beneficial for World Cup preparation. The prime reason Schmidt went with the best touring squad available rather than give a few lads a summer off is to lay down a marker ahead of Japan 2019. And having that group out here, getting the benefit of another three weeks in the bubble, also is a solid building block towards the World Cup.
Moreover you can infer Schmidt being loyal to those who observe the rules of the system. Jordi Murphy agrees to go to Ulster when he could as easily have gone abroad – he starts at openside. Joey Carbery listens to the coach’s concerns about playing out of position at Leinster and agrees to move – albeit to Munster and not up north – and he starts at 10.
Perhaps the biggest winner, however, is a man who isn’t swapping one team for another, a man whose season was far from what he had wanted it to be. Frequently playing second fiddle to Stephen Archer at Munster looked like it would have negative implications for John Ryan’s career. And yet here he is in the run-on side on Saturday.
Along with Rob Herring and Jack McGrath, he will be part of a front row that looked like having three Lions in it when the touring squad was announced. Then Rory Best withdrew and now Schmidt has taken a step further by selecting Herring and Ryan alongside the vastly experienced Jack McGrath.
For Wallabies Sekope Kepu and Scott Sio, and their debutant hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa, this has to be good news. But if it goes wrong for them, then Michael Cheika has nowhere to turn to beef things up in Melbourne the next week.
Aside from Quinn Roux, the Ireland bench has extraordinary impact to it. The intriguing aspect to this game will be what direction it’s headed when Schmidt starts swapping some numbers around the 50th minute. If the tourists are in good nick when Sean Cronin, Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong come on then it will be dispiriting for the Wallabies to see what’s coming over the brow of the hill. But if Ireland are on the run then it will be a different story. Either way, this selection is a new departure and has added hugely to what already had been building nicely.