Sunday 15 September 2019

Comment: Schmidt's summer squad highlights that Ireland are in a unique state of World Cup readiness

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

With just two new caps in Joe Schmidt’s squad to tour Australia next month, it illustrates how hard it will be for outsiders to break in ahead of the 2019 World Cup.

Injuries will shatter a few of those dreams and make a few others, and loss of form will play a lesser role in the squad make-up before Japan, but that World Cup group will be restricted to 31, whereas the group for Australia has one man extra on board.

So it presents Ireland in a state of unique readiness with a lot of rugby to be played. Which is why Schmidt needs this group to deliver next month on a trip where Ireland last won a series in the dark old days of amateurism.

To that end, having 10 players with more than 40 caps is a good down-payment. And while Ross Byrne and Tadhg Beirne are the only uncapped players of the group, the latter won’t look out of place given his form for Scarlets over the last two seasons. Had he been based at home you'd think he would have ticked that box before now. Except that he had to leave to get noticed.

So Beirne already is in the World Cup frame even though he hasn’t played a minute at this level. When you factor him in alongside Iain Henderson, James Ryan and Devin Toner – with South African Jean Kleyn becoming Ireland-eligible for next summer’s pre-RWC warm-ups, it’s a powerful group to pick from.

Rhys Marshall’s eligibility is a closer run affair, and if he had kicked off for Munster a couple of months earlier then Niall Scannell would already be even more concerned. Scannell has lost out on this trip to Rob Herring, a player Schmidt has always rated, and the Munster hooker has suffered by, in the first place, losing his place to Marshall.

The inclusion of Ross Byrne is a good reward for a player who has been so reliable as back-up for Johnny Sexton at Leinster. But it’s because of Joey Carbery’s role in blue as a 15 rather than a 10 that the door for Byrne is open. Well, that plus the situation Ian Madigan and Paddy Jackson find themselves in: one a voluntary exile, the other an exile in waiting.

The only way that picture will change is if Carbery keeps Schmidt happy and points his car for Belfast. Or if Tyler Bleyendaal makes a full recovery from his neck injury and gets back to where he was last season with 25 starts and two off the bench. Ideally he needs to be in pole position for Munster for the start of next season. He becomes Ireland-eligible this September. 

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The fitness worries over Luke McGrath have cost him a trip he was desperate to make. Having the second half of his season interrupted by damaged knee ligaments this is not a good time to be opening the door to John Cooney, whose form for Ulster has been so solid.

Given the mix across this touring squad, with good back-up currently out of action, Joe Schmidt is in a solid position for the short and long term. If he had more comfort at halfback he would want for nothing. Aside from luck.

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