Schmidt offers no assurances to Best but is upbeat on Carbery's fitness
Joe Schmidt yesterday said a decision on who will lead Ireland to the World Cup in Japan has yet to be finalised amid growing criticism of incumbent captain Rory Best in the wake of his side's record loss in Twickenham.
The skipper was due to attend a commercial engagement this morning, but is instead being pressed into action against Wales on Saturday after a poor performance in the record defeat to England last weekend.
In the wake of that loss, Schmidt changed his schedule and fronted yesterday's press conference at Carton House as he attempted to quell the reaction to the defeat.
And, while he said the captaincy is not currently up for discussion, he refused to rule out a change when his squad is finalised after this weekend's game.
Accepting that shipping eight tries was unacceptable, the coach issued assurances that the team would bounce back and improve.
He gave his most positive bulletin on Joey Carbery's ankle injury yet, predicting that the Munster out-half will be available for the Scotland game if not before, while he refuted reports that Johnny Sexton picked up an injury last week and said the out-half could feature in Cardiff and will almost certainly start in the return fixture on Saturday week.
The biggest fallout from Twickenham centres around the captain, however, after Best was involved in a lineout meltdown.
At 37, there are major question-marks over the Ulster man's captaincy. Schmidt is standing by his man, for now.
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"If there is external noise of that nature then there is no internal noise of that nature," Schmidt said.
"Probably for Rory it is that internal noise that is most relevant to him because that is where the decisions are going to be made and at this stage there are no decisions that have been made in that direction.
"Guys are going to get an opportunity this weekend and if they perform better than any player who played last weekend then there is always a contest. You have got to keep that contest live.
"No roles have been finalised until the World Cup until we name our 31 later on next week so no one takes anything for granted."
“Rory is currently captain and he’ll continue to be captain until further notice really and if that notice comes in the short term then that’s a discussion I’ll have with Rory, but at this stage it’s not on our agenda.”
Carbery is “progressing well,” according to the coach, who is holding out hope the out-half will play against Wales in the final warm-up on Saturday week.
That is also likely to be Johnny Sexton’s sole outing, although he may yet feature on a strong bench at the Principality Stadium with Jack Carty starting.
Carbery aside, Keith Earls is Ireland’s chief injury concern with knee tendonitis as Schmidt gave a positive update on Conor Murray and Cian Healy who are unlikely to feature this weekend. Prop Finlay Bealham returned to train with the squad yesterday.
“Joey is progressing well, he was doing a bit on the pitch today and I think in terms of following his rehab, that four to six window is bang on,” Schmidt said.
“We just don’t know where he’s going to fall in that four- to six-week window, where if everything goes perfectly, he may get into that Welsh game back here in the Aviva.
“If it hasn’t gone perfectly then, at worst, I think he’ll be fully available for the Scotland game (on September 22). If he gets put back a day or two, or even a week, I think it’s still going to be a really good chance that he gets a full week’s training (before Scotland).”