Ireland rugby squad depth chart: November internationals underlined the resources at Joe Schmidt's disposal
‘The decision’ has been made.
Joe Schmidt will ‘retire’ from coaching at the end of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
There are just ‘the decisions’ to be made, nine months from now, when 31-men will make the cut to board the flight to Japan.
The 2015 World Cup quarter-final debacle convinced Schmidt there had to be a change of mindset.
Ireland were made rudderless by the loss of the spine of their leadership group in Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony, Jared Payne, Sean O’Brien and Jonathan Sexton.
That void was not adequately filled by those in behind the frontline.
In the aftermath, Schmidt made it his mission to develop Ireland’s depth chart, looking to be ‘three-deep’ in every position.
Last week, the national coach acknowledged the trust placed in him by the IRFU to take risks.
He was given the licence to possibly even sacrifice victory, as Ireland did in the first test in Australia where Sexton sat on the bench behind Joey Carbery.
“I’d never describe anything as being on track because there are so many variables between now and then that can upset what we’re currently doing.
“Are we currently comfortable with where we’re at? We’re never comfortable,” said Schmidt.
“You’ve almost got to be resigned to the fact that you’re never going to be totally comfortable because there’s a couple of positions where we’d like to have more depth.”
For instance, at full-back, Rob Kearney’s basics in the position have shown the journey Jordan Larmour has yet to make.
The fast learner has the guts of a season to get there, even though the learning curve will be hampered by playing for the same province.
A winner out of November was Will Addison, the versatile back getting game time at centre and full-back to make him an option in both positions.
In fact, the wing is an area in which Leinster’s Fergus McFadden, currently out injured, and Dave Kearney, just 29, can still have an impact.
The other main area of concern has to be at number eight where CJ Stander (inset) and Jack Conan are way out in front with no other challenger in sight.
Ulster’s Nick Timoney and Connacht’s Paul Boyle, as well as Leinster’s Max Deegan and Caelan Doris, are some way behind.
Then again, the back row has a surfeit of talent with players able to switch positions, some still holding the opinion that it is Sean O’Brien’s best position.
Schmidt used the strength at openside to drive the competition between four international stalwarts.
“To be honest, we’re not sure in some positions. We’re not sure who those three are,” he said.
“Is it Sean O’Brien, Dan Leavy, Jordi Murphy, Josh van der Flier? Or is it the other way around?
“When you talk about a depth chart, some positions you need more than others because they tend to end up being more attritional because they have to go to dark places more often.”
It has all been done in the name of a greater goal to make Ireland bullet-proof against what happened in 2015.
Schmidt was unwilling to reveal how close he is to having that ‘three-deep’ pool.
“It is very hard because you tend to analyse a match in isolation,” he said.
The final of four tests against the United States allowed Schmidt to further test how deep is the water.
The coach released many of his frontline leaders to see who would sink and who would swim. “Without leaving it rudderless, we wanted to put them under a bit of pressure, so, at the end of the full four-game series, that allows us to know more.”