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Ruaidhri O'Connor: 'Henshaw issue leaves Schmidt facing into a selection conundrum'

 

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Joe Schmidt and Rory Best address the media at yesterday's press conference. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Joe Schmidt and Rory Best address the media at yesterday's press conference. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Joe Schmidt and Rory Best address the media at yesterday's press conference. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Just hours after the drive for five was completed by the Dubs back home, Joe Schmidt and Rory Best took to the stage at their team hotel to begin their 'welcome' press conference at their team base in Chiba.

The world's No 1 team might have to wait a day or two for centre stage in Ireland, but in Japan they're attracting plenty of attention.

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Opportunity knocks: Garry Ringrose is now fancied to start against Scotland in Sunday's World Cup opener. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Opportunity knocks: Garry Ringrose is now fancied to start against Scotland in Sunday's World Cup opener. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Opportunity knocks: Garry Ringrose is now fancied to start against Scotland in Sunday's World Cup opener. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Despite the 9am Sunday start, their compact press room was packed to the rafters and the live translation for local media made for a colourful affair. Throw in a New Zealand journalist asking Joe Schmidt about how his birthday went and a Japanese news reporter probing Rory Best about Brexit, and it all made from a departure from the norm.

Still, there was room for a couple of questions from the sleep-deprived Irish hacks who were keen to know more about Robbie Henshaw's hamstring troubles.

Rumours of a tear circulated back home and hit the presses on Sunday night local time. Schmidt confirmed there was an injury, but described it as tightness and mentioned the word cramp.

Worryingly, the problem was serious enough for the centre to undergo scans yesterday at 2pm.

An official update would not be forthcoming for another 25 hours, with the next press conference being held tomorrow morning.

At the time of writing, no plans had been made to call up Will Addison, who was stood down from Ulster duty in Glasgow on Saturday on request from Schmidt.

Henshaw, however, will miss Sunday's opener against Scotland and is a doubt for the remainder of the tournament.

He's not alone in being a concern. Joey Carbery was due to train overnight, but Keith Earls will not take the field until Wednesday or Thursday after limping out of the final warm-up game against Wales with a tendonitis problem. Andrew Conway would likely replace him if the injury doesn't clear.

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Garry Ringrose is the favourite to replace Henshaw and partner Bundee Aki in the centre against the Scots, who themselves have injury issues with Jamie Ritchie out of the opener. Blair Kinghorn, Ben Toolis, Jonny Gray, Blade Thomson and Allan Dell are all expected to be fit.

Schmidt had a stab at naming Townsend's backline for him yesterday, yet his focus will be on getting his own combinations right.

Injury isn't the only thing on his mind, the early forecasts are predicting heavy rain and thunderstorms for Sunday's game in Yokohama and that will alter the plans.

Practice

Although coping without Henshaw is not ideal, he has plenty of practice.

If he picks Aki and Ringrose or Farrell on Friday it will be the 24th time in 30 Test matches that he's been unable to name the same midfield back-to-back.

Most would assume Ringrose will step in, but Farrell's size will be a consideration if the game-plan is to bully the Scots.

"At this stage, they've all slotted in," Schmidt said of his centres.

"Yesterday, we didn't train for particularly long as a team. We probably trained for about 30 minutes and in that 30 minutes guys went in and out.

"So, we believe that Bundee can play 12 and so can Chris, and Chris can play 13 and so can Garry Ringrose.

"When we played Scotland this year in the Six Nations, Bundee and Chris played together and did a good job.

"So we know that last year, Garry came in cold after Chris had been player of the match against Wales and played very well against Scotland.

"So, in recent times they've both got form against Scotland specifically, and we know the different strengths they bring to the game.

"So we'll keep an eye on that forecast and we'll see what we feel is the best decision for the team.

"You always hope against hope and I'm hoping it was just cramp and the travel and things and that Robbie's not too bad. As much as I say I'd be surprised if he's in, I wouldn't completely rule him out as yet."

Although there's been a revolving door of partners outside him, Aki's constant presence makes life easier for the coach, who has been able to build around his midfield rock who has started 20 of the last 24 matches at No 12. In that time, he's had Ringrose alongside him eight times, Henshaw six times, Farrell five times and Addison once.

"I wouldn't say it's difficult, I think it's been good that I've had the chance and had the privilege to build a relationship with all the centres in camp, which is very good," he said.

"Whoever gets in or gets picked in the game this week with Scotland, we're all familiar with each other and sure look, we'll find out when we get there and we've all played together, so it's fine.

"Everyone has had the chance to play together... the likes of Chris and Ringer playing together, myself and Chris, Ringer and myself, we've all played together so there's nothing wrong with it, whoever Joe picks on the weekend I'm sure will put in a good performance.

"Everyone knows what they can bring to the table, and that's all we can ask for, to give it everything you've got."

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