Joe Schmidt points to scrum issues as he explains Sean Cronin's surprise second test omission
Joe Schmidt has pointed to Niall Scannell’s scrummaging ability as the chief reason behind his promotion into the Irish starting XV for Saturday’s second test against Australia.
The Munster hooker was the surprise inclusion in a much-changed team as Ireland look to bounce back from their 18-9 first test loss in Brisbane.
Scannell, who hasn't played for Ireland in a year after suffering a number of injuries this season, replaces Rob Herring, who drops to the bench, with Leinster favourite Sean Cronin missing out altogether in a decision that will come as a surprise to many.
Cronin now faces an uphill battle to regain his place after falling out of favour once again.
He missed out on the November internationals, but regained his place as back-up to Rory Best throughout the Six Nations and came off the bench last Saturday.
However, he appears to have copped the blame for a 68th minute scrum penalty on Ireland’s line that swung the game in Australia’s favour.
Up against a powerful, unchanged front-row, the Irish management are understood to be concerned at Cronin’s work in the tight channels and are backing Scannell’s set-piece excellence to help turn the tide.
At 101kg, Cronin is giving up 2st, 7lbs to Australia’s starting hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa (116kg), which is thought to be a concern to the management.
Scannell (110kg) and Rob Herring (106kg) are both considered to be stronger set-piece operators.
"Niall Scannell played right through Six Nations last year for us, so he’s a guy who, when he got his opportunity when Rory Best was unwell, he did a super job for us,” Schmidt said.
"We’re giving him another opportunity to impress, with Niall - he’s a good scrummaging hooker and that will add a little bit to an area where we weren’t as strong as we normally are.
"With Niall, it is a real opportunity for him to probably galvanise that pack and take a step forward at scrum time."
Schmidt revealed that Bundee Aki and Iain Henderson weren’t considered for selection after sitting out training on Tuesday, while Jacob Stockdale was another who missed the session and makes way for Andrew Conway.
The head coach is primed to give Tadhg Beirne his debut off the bench and he is excited to see what the Scarlets lock can deliver.
"He has got good energy, he obviously has good instincts on pitch,” Schmidt said.
"We've seen that over course of this season and last, particularly in the end-game of last when he played superbly in the semi-final and final of PRO12.
"We're looking forward to seeing him out there, he brings a big engine to the job. He just keeps going.
"I do think that the pace of the game is something he’s used to, way Scarlets play, hopefully allows him to settle right in pretty quickly.
"He's had a week with us to.... he'd had one training prior to coming on tour, so to have had last week to settle himself and orientate himself and fit in.
"This week now he might get the opportunity for him to do that and then step out and potentially make his Test debut."
Second-row Devin Toner has been impressed with Beirne’s contribution.
"He's hungry, you can tell," he said.
"He was disappointed not to be involved last week but I think he's going to get a shot this week. If he gets off the bench he's going to come looking for work.
"You can see that when he's played for Scarlets, he's just involved in everything. He's got a really high work rate and I'm excited to see how he goes.
"He's been brilliant for Scarlets for the last two years. He was just horribly unlucky with injuries in Leinster. The most I saw of him was when he was doing rehab in the gym, to be honest. Any time he did play, he was hungry for work. I'm not surprised at all."
After a first defeat in 13 games, Schmidt is looking for a response in Melbourne.
"We trained well today, we were a little but flat onTuesday to be honest. It took some players a little bit of time to find their feet," he said.
"We're a long way from home, nine hours time differnece and I’d like to think we’ve got a buit more rhythm to us.
"One of the really good things in the Six Nations was I felt we built through it and I'm hoping to build through the tour.
"We didn't start the way we wanted to, we’d have liked to have started from a higher pitch and built on from that.
"With Australia naming the same team, we're very confident that they'll come well prepared and they'll improve their game a little bit, so we've got to improve that little bit more because I felt they were very good on Saturday."