Monday 17 June 2019

Joe Schmidt names strong training squad but worries remain over form of three key men

Garry Ringrose of Leinster is tackled by Pete Horne of Glasgow Warriors during the Guinness PRO14 Final match between Leinster and Glasgow Warriors at Celtic Park in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Garry Ringrose of Leinster is tackled by Pete Horne of Glasgow Warriors during the Guinness PRO14 Final match between Leinster and Glasgow Warriors at Celtic Park in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Des Berry

As the dust settles on another season, the focus will shortly switch to where it always does at the end of a four-year cycle.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has had enough time to digest the ramifications of what happened in the Six Nations.

He has a decision to make about how best to go after a semi-final spot in the Rugby World Cup.

This has already been influenced by the loss of the likes of Dan Leavy and Sean O’Brien, leaving Ireland looking thin at openside.

There is sure to be more than that who will fail to make it as far as the starting line for the opening pool match against Scotland in Japan on Sunday, September 22.

The extended Ireland squad was revealed around lunchtime today, including 44 players.

Read more: Joe Schmidt names two uncapped players in World Cup training squad

Since the conclusion of the Six Nations, the Champions Cup and PRO14 play-offs must have given Schmidt plenty of action to confirm previously held opinions and, in some cases, to rethink them. 

To be clear, no one is safe from his forensic eye.

For instance, it was far from guaranteed that the Tullow Tank would have travelled to the World Cup before his hip surgery ,and these three players are certain to go to Japan, Schmidt will still be keeping an eye on their form.   

JONATHAN SEXTON

2018/19 – Ireland: 7 Caps, all starts – 466 minutes

2018/19 – Leinster: 11 Caps, 6 Champions Cup – 698 minutes

The 2018 World Player of the Year was in an unassailable position as Ireland’s out-half last November.

Since then, Sexton has struggled to come up to his own standards through the Six Nations and on into the Champions Cup and PRO14 play-offs.

He still has control over the next few months in that a return to form will secure the number ten shirt.

Still, Schmidt is not beyond making a change should Joey Carbery or Jack Carty take the next step in their development and Sexton fails to fire.     

CONOR MURRAY

2018/19 – Ireland: 5 Caps, all starts – 354 minutes

2018/19 – Munster: 13 Caps, 6 Champions Cup – 776 minutes

The widely proclaimed ‘best scrum-half in the world’ has struggled alongside Sexton in green and Carbery in red.

The handling of a mysterious injury at the start of the season was unnecessarily allowed to fester and grow legs. 

There was never a point in the season when Murray looked completely in control of what was happening around him for Munster or Ireland.

The most recent evidence was an ordinary performance against Leinster in the PRO14 League semi-final.

GARRY RINGROSE

2018/19 – Ireland: 6 Caps, all starts – 473 minutes

2018/19 – Leinster: 16 Caps, 9 Champions Cup – 1,020 minutes

In recent weeks, the defensive master has been found wanting on the big stages in Newcastle and Glasgow.

The game intelligence of Ireland’s number one candidate for the outside centre slot has been well-documented.

However, this is a shirt for which there are worthy challenges from Bundee Aki and Will Addison, as long as the Ulster centre can come back in tremendous nick for pre-season.   

Ringrose is still in pole position, but, like Sexton and Murray, the next three weeks will be used to recharge batteries.

These three won’t need to be told no one can take anything for granted.

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