Saturday 24 March 2018

Joe Schmidt insists he has 'complete faith' in Paddy Jackson as Ireland squad decimated by injuries ahead of South Africa tour

Ireland's Paddy Jackson impressed for Ulster
Ireland's Paddy Jackson impressed for Ulster
David Kelly

David Kelly

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has insisted he has full faith in Ulster out-half Paddy Jackson after confirming this morning's Irish Independent exclusive news of Jonathan Sexton's shock withdrawal from the summer tour to South Africa.

On another day of injury carnage for Joe Schmidt' men, four players were cut from the three-test tour to a country where they have never won a test as the Irish injury toll soared into double figures.

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt during squad training. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt during squad training. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Sexton damaged a collarbone during the Pro12 final against Connacht after receiving a thumping tackle from Bundee Aki and will need surgery and a three-month lay-off as he battles yet another in a series of injuries that have dogged him in recent years.

Read More: Huge blow for Ireland: Jonathan Sexton out of Springbok tour

Leinster back three brothers Rob and Dave Kearney have also been ruled out through injury; Rob suffered a hamstring injury in training on Tuesday while brother Dave (Grade Two calf strain) and Luke Fitzgerald (medial ligament strain) had also shipped knocks in that final defeat.

Leinster's continued difficulty offers offer opportunity with uncapped Connacht duo Tiernan O'Halloran and Matt Healy called up to join Sean Reidy and Quinn Roux as potential debutants.

Bordeaux-bound Ian Madigan has been offered a lifeline while Craig Gilroy is also called up.

Read More: Connacht duo benefit as Johnny Sexton and Kearney brothers ruled out of South Africa tour

"I don't think we can live with regrets," said Schmidt, who confirmed that Sexton will need surgery and may return in three months.

"At the time Johnny played really well and we needed the multi-cover off the bench from Ian Madigan particularly because we tended to lose players during those games.

At the same time, Paddy was in and out of camp during that time so he was certainly up to sped in terms of what we were doing. That was probably a real upsurge in his form.

"He was running a team that he was the experienced player in. The old guys like Rory weren't there. He really took the team by the scruff of the neck and I think he grew during that period. "There is always a silver lining and Paddy made the most of that. And that showed in his end of season form."

Schmidt said that the latest injury blows will not change the expectations of a side ho want to win the series - despite never having won a game on South African soil.

"It certainly doesn't change expectations and expectations are never based around results, as much as that's how we're judged. We can't control all the variables around the results.

"My expectation is that the players will work hard, they'll unite really effectively under Rory's leadership and that we will be competitive. Whether that's enough, we'll find out on the 11th, 18th and 25th of June."

Jackson's captain Rory Best backed his team-mate to shine despite being snubbed under Schmidt for much of his tenure.

"I spoke a lot towards the end of the season about how much he has learned from Johnny. The way he conducts himself around Ulster is learning from the way Johnny conducts himself in this environment.

"He knows the plays and runs the plays, he has confidence in that. It's a big opportunity for him, no doubt. It's a big shot to fill with hat Johnny has done for Leinster and Ireland. It's a chance for him to come in and put his own slant on it.

"He's surrounded by people he knows, he's been involved in the camps, he's played a few tests. He has the confidence of the group, there is doubt. He has the chance to come in and show the form he had at the tail-end of the season."

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