David Kelly: 'Robbie Henshaw's absence is symbolic of how Schmidt's plans have gone awry'
Robbie Henshaw watched Samoa from the baking bleachers of the Kobe Misaki stadium on Monday. He might wonder will he get a chance to play against them next week.
For Henshaw will sit in the same stands on Thursday for game three of a World Cup that has not gone to plan for his country, and which has certainly not gone to plan for him.
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Since picking up a hamstring injury on the first day of serious business on Japanese soil, he has been forced to endure an anxious limbo. And so has everyone else.
His absence is threatening to become a symbol of Ireland’s latest World Cup escapade – whether a portent of a familiar tournament dénouement or a potent sign of resurrection remains to be seen.
For now, though, his continued absence from the coach’s plans are causing a rippling series of knock-on effects.
Garry Ringrose, though he may not complain, may be feeling them more than most.
On Thursday, with temperatures tipping 30 degrees Celsius, amid debilitating humidity levels of 64 per cent, he will start his third game in 11 days.
He would not have been committed to such a schedule had Henshaw’s hamstring not failed him on that fateful first day of work in Japan.
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Schmidt and his brains trust – both medical and tactical – have gambled with unknown odds in trusting that Henshaw might recover his fitness but the wager may prove to be costly.
With Bundee Aki already losing some time in this tournament because of one of the raft of head knocks suffered by Ireland, and now Chris Farrell side-lined with injury – concussion – Ringrose has had to undertake a significant work-load.
The concern for some supporters will be that the only reason Ringrose has had to carry such a burden is that Ireland are carrying Henshaw.
Ringrose might be able to cope, but that wasn’t the plan.
It’s quite ironic that, after bemoaning the restrictions placed upon competing countries due to the tight nature of a 31-man squad, Schmidt has willingly reduced the number of his players at his disposal as he waits for Henshaw’s injury to clear.
Having already entered the tournament with significant concerns around two of his three out-halves, as well as an injuries to Rob Kearney and Keith Earls – and these are the only injuries which were publicised before Jack Conan became the first official casualty – it always seemed Schmidt was making an unnecessary tightrope walk.
He might have been tempted to draft in Will Addison – and rumours abounded when he was hastily pulled from a pre-season friendly by his province.
Ironically, his chronic injury woes have ruled that option out, if ever it were a runner in the first-place.
With the options in midfield increasingly limited, it does seem surprising that against the limited Russians, Jordan Larmour, who has been bright in this tournament, has not been given a run.
Henshaw’s hamstring woe is not the only concern afflicting the coach, as the momentous quarter-final date with either New Zealand or South Africa looms.
With Schmidt also by-passing the temporarily discommoded Peter O’Mahony in his eagerness to hand his on-field general, Jonathan Sexton, the captaincy against Russia, there is a sense that Schmidt’s best-laid plans are slowly unravelling.
Clearly Ringrose will not be required against Samoa but what if Henshaw is not ready then, either?
Will Ringrose be asked to play again and in the quarter-final? Can Henshaw be risked in a quarter-final having not played since May 25th?
We may have to wait another week to get even close to finding out the answer.