Monday 16 July 2018

Comment: There are only two men who will be sweating over Joe Schmidt's team selection for Italy

Head coach Joe Schmidt during Ireland Rugby squad training at Carton House in Kildare. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Head coach Joe Schmidt during Ireland Rugby squad training at Carton House in Kildare. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Training must have been a real pleasure to be a part of in the Ireland camp this week. It’s hard to put a price on the wellbeing generated by surviving such a close call at the first fence – and to have done it with a level of accuracy and resolve that will have warned the four remaining opponents in this campaign.

Combine that with the certainty that changes were coming around the corner for the Italy game and you had an even broader band of players feeling good about life. Even those who suspected they were about to be benched understood that in such a compressed campaign the load would have to be shared.

Dan Leavy knew by the time he got back to the changing room in Stade de France that he was in line to pick up against Italy where he had just left off against France. Even without the ligament rupture suffered by Josh van der Flier he might have made the run-on side.

Equally Jack McGrath had his campaign plan mapped out – and if it didn’t involve a start in Paris then most likely it would in Dublin the following week.

The case with Devin Toner is less clearcut. When Joe Schmidt benched him against England in last season’s Championship it halted a run of 17 straight starts and indicated he was no longer an automatic choice.

The astonishing progress of James Ryan would not have been lost on Toner. So too however would be the fitness issues that have followed Ryan, an Ireland captain in waiting. His massive workload in Paris suggested a rest the next week might have been no harm, regardless of whatever knock he was carrying.

So Toner hops back in, with Quinn Roux getting the bench spot ahead of Ultan Dillane whose mother died earlier in the week.

The addition of Andrew Porter to the bench lowers the age profile. Along with the under-used Joey Carbery – who will be sprung from there within seconds of the game looking safe – and the uncapped Jordan Larmour, it adds interest to how the scoreboard will be impacted when the traffic starts.

In all the changes the only men who will sweat a bit are Luke McGrath and CJ Stander. McGrath has to vacate his bench spot knowing that his rival, Kieran Marmion, will likely get against Italy what he didn’t get against France: game time. How early that arrives, and how well it goes, will shape McGrath’s mood going into next week.

As for Stander, it’s as well he is durable and versatile because Jack Conan is the best number eight in the country. So when Schmidt decides to follow that line in selection the Munster hero will still have his hand up looking for work.

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