Tuesday 17 July 2018

Joe Schmidt challenges Sean Cronin to prove his scrummaging mettle after recalling hooker for Wallabies decider

21 June 2018; Sean Cronin during Ireland rugby squad training at North Sydney Oval in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
21 June 2018; Sean Cronin during Ireland rugby squad training at North Sydney Oval in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Joe Schmidt has challenged Sean Cronin to prove himself at the set-piece after recalling the Leinster hooker to the side for the decider against Australia.

The 32-year-old will win his 63rd cap in Sydney, but he is making just his 10th start for his country and has plenty to prove after missing out on selection for the second Test.

Back-up to Rory Best throughout the Six Nations, Cronin might have expected to start in the captain’s absence on tour but instead found himself on the bench for the first Test and then out of the picture altogether for the Melbourne win.

Niall Scannell did well in his place, while Rob Herring built on his excellent first outing with an impressive performance off the bench.

While no one doubts Cronin’s abilities around the park, concerns have been expressed about his scrummaging and size and Schmidt wants a big performance from the Limerick native on Saturday.

"We'd love to see him do really well in the set-pieces," he said.

"We obviously had Niall Scannell doing really well last week and Rob Herring has been super, I thought his performance off the bench last week was really good.

"The other thing from Sean is that dynamic ball-carry, that dynamic line-speed he can bring and he's an incredibly combative character, so we're looking forward to seeing all those elements really."

The coach has picked an unfamiliar back-row, with CJ Stander shifting to blindside wing-forward and captain Peter O’Mahony moving to openside to accommodate Jack Conan’s inclusion.

Up against the twin-threats of Michael Hooper and David Pocock, Schmidt is comfortable with the balance of his trio.

"I thought Peter did really well over the ball last week, it's something that he's very capable of doing. It maintains the lineout presence that he offers, the leadership that he's brought to the team through this series," he said at a press conference overnight.

"With Dan Leavy unavailable, it was probably just an opportunity for Jack Conan to get in at number eight. Once he was in at number eight and trying to maintain a bit of continuity through the spine of the team, CJ Stander shifted to six and Peter to seven.

"Having said that, we felt that Jordi Murphy came off the bench really well last week. He played the week before, so his game volume is quite high and we decided, well there were a number of things to balance really.

"We were waiting to see how Dan came through the week, he's had very little time on tour out on the pitch and unfortunately, that wasn't to be.

"Pocock and Hooper had about 34 bites at the ball in the ruck, that's an incredibly high volume and we know they're going to be every bit as threatening in the ruck again.

"It was more about balancing our side than combating an Australian threat that we know exists and is going to be to the forefront on Sunday."

Leinster youngster Ross Byrne could make his debut off the bench and Schmidt has been impressed with how he has adapted to life in the squad.

"He's been super and that was probably always part of the plan, really, to make sure that Joey Carbery got a start on the tour and Ross Byrne got an opportunity at some stage," Schmidt said.

"We'll see how the game is going as to how much and what it looks like for Ross to get onto the pitch but he's trained really well.

"He's a smart kid, he's picked things up quickly.

"He's been flexible, he's had to move around a little bit which has given us a bit of confidence because whenever you're putting someone on the bench - to have some sort to cover a couple of positions is really important.

"So, that's been an asset as well. Having Ross moving around a little bit from Nos 10 and 12, Jordan Larmour ticks just about every other box."

Australia – I Folau; D Haylett-Petty, S Kerevi, K Beale, M Koroibete; B Foley, N Phipps; S Sio, B Paenga-Amosa, S Kepu; I Rodda, A Coleman; L Tui, M Hooper, D Pocock. Reps: T Latu, T  Robertson, T Tupou, R Simmons, N Hanigan, P Samu, J Powell, R Hodge.

IRELAND – R Kearney; K Earls, R Henshaw, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, S Cronin, T Furlong; D Toner, James Ryan; CJ Stander, P O’Mahony (capt), J Conan. Reps: N Scannell, C Healy, John Ryan, T Beirne, J Murphy, K Marmion, R Byrne, J Larmour.

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