Sunday 15 December 2019

'We can't afford a slip up' - Joe Schmidt explains risk-free Ireland selection for Paris challenge

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt during today's press conference.
Simon Zebo and Keith Earls

Tom Rooney

Due to a combination of the attrition rate that permeated the draw with Wales and just a six day respite before facing France, Joe Schmidt has had Ireland on the training paddock for a grand total of 95 minutes this week.

Predictably, as the ferociously physical battle at the Aviva Stadium last Sunday wore on, the body count mounted. Ireland were forced to replace Keith Earls, Tommy O’Donnell and Jonathan Sexton for varying ailments before Jerome Garces blew the final whistle.

Throw in Simon Zebo’s damaged knee and an already extensive injury list and alarm bells were surely ringing in Carton House on Monday morning.

Yet as Joe Schmidt named his match squad this afternoon, it was just the names of Earls and Zebo which were not on the team sheet, with Rob Kearney and Sean O’Brien welcomed back to the starting line-up.

After a palpably anxious wait in the press room, Schmidt finally emerged to put the nation out of its misery. The delay, he explained, was down to making a final decision on the aforementioned Munster backs.

“We were trying to clarify the fitness of Simon Zebo and Keith Earls, who we have left out of the squad. One of the reasons it took a while was they got through training, but we just felt that they weren’t 100pc fit.

“It was a risk and there’s nothing worse than having someone replaced early in the game who potentially wasn’t fully fit. Having someone come off the bench when they’re not fully fit is probably not the best thing to do when you’re going to Paris,” he said.

Understandably, physical training for facing Guy Noves’ new look French outfit has been considerably truncated. Muscles and joints needed to heal and the medical staff required time to work their magic if Ireland were to take a remotely strong group to the Stade De France.

For a man who demands a meticulous and rigorous due diligence be carried out prior to all challenges, Schmidt did not cut the figure of a coach satisfied with the prep time banked over the last few days.

“It’s one of those things with the six day turn around, particularly travelling. If we had another day at training we could hedge our bets a little bit by we’ve got to get on a plane at 3 15 this afternoon and take the players available to us. That’s probably as frustrating as anything, that uncertainty.”

“We had a very, very short window this weekend. We trained for 32 minutes on Tuesday and we trained for 63 minutes today and we’ll be very limited in what we do in our captains run. As a result, that’s the sum of our preparation for a huge test match because we can’t afford to slip up.”

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