Saturday 15 December 2018

Joe Schmidt backs his young guns to shine in Six Nations opener

Coach parks big issues to focus on French challenge

Ulster and Ireland wing Jacob Stockdale
Ulster and Ireland wing Jacob Stockdale
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: James Crombie/INPHO
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Joe Schmidt believes his new faces are ready for the cauldron of a Six Nations opener in the Stade de France.

The head coach handed Jacob Stockdale, James Ryan and Bundee Aki their Championship debuts for tomorrow's clash with Jacques Brunel's men.

He says the team are fully focused on the game despite the potential for distraction during an unusual build-up to the game which included the departure of Les Kiss from Ulster and the appearance of his captain Rory Best and second-row Iain Henderson at a very public court case involving two of their Ireland and Ulster team-mates.

Schmidt has always insisted that his players can focus within the "bubble" at their Carton House base.

"The bubble stays the same," he said. "The size and nature of events may change from week to week, but, you know, again, we don't directly influence those.

"We don't control those circumstances and they won't directly influence what happens on Saturday and the players are very good at just staying focused on what they need to do in the very short term.

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"Anything else will be discussed or solved at a later date."

It remains unclear whether Best will appear at his scheduled Captain's Run press conference at the Stade de France this morning. The decision to select 21-year-old Ryan ahead of the more experienced Devin Toner was the most eye-catching of Schmidt's selections, but the coach believes there is enough seasoned players around the Leinster young gun to allow him to thrive.

"Physically, he has the frame for it, mentally he has a brain for it," Schmidt said.

"He has an attitude for it, a maturity for it, and he has an athleticism for it. So when you combine those with the fact he has a skill, he is developing an understanding.

"And the best way to further development, is to challenge it, so for us, we want to keep challenging him because we are always challenging ourselves.

"It is a big day for him. Iain Henderson next to him has good experience and I think that will help him to a degree. Josh van der Flier, and CJ Stander have got good Six Nations experience, and Pete O'Mahony has too.

"So the guys around him, that often allows someone to just solely focus on their role and that helps them do what they need to do, and what others need from them."

France coach Brunel yesterday named uncapped 19-year-old Bordeaux Begles out-half Matthieu Jalibert in his team for the opener.

He is one of six debutants in the match-day 23, with Castres full-back Geoffrey Palis starting for France and Dany Priso, Cedate Gomes Sa, Adrien Pelissié and Marco Tauleigne on the bench.

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