Joe Schmidt admits the absence of scrum-half Conor Murray will leave a “hole” in his side to face England after the Munster man failed a late fitness test this morning.
Schmidt’s planning was thrown into further turmoil this week as Rob Kearney developed a knee injury after training on Tuesday.
“We will lose Conor’s experience and we will lose his calm,” said Schmidt, who also dropped Devin Toner to allow Iain Henderson to join Donnacha Ryan to shore up a heavily creaking lineout.
“He seldom looks like he is under pressure, he is able to make good decisions in defence. His ability to control and navigate us around the pitch.
“That experience will leave a hole, Kieran Marmion and Luke McGrath have only a dozen caps whereas they have over 100 in their halves.
“But we had three debutants in this fixture last year, Ultan Dillane, Stu McCloskey and Josh van der Flier and they all grew from that experience.
“Conor trained okay on Tuesday without contact but we fitness tested him today and felt he wasn’t 100%, if more bruising came on that shoulder and we lose him early in the game, we’re vulnerable. It’s a fantastic opportunity for Kieran.
“Iain Henderson came off the bench and we wanted to give him a chance to start. It’s not that Devin played badly, it’s trying to get balance.
Rob Kearney has a knee injury and is unavailable. We’re not sure how serious it might be but he felt uncomfortable after training fully on Tuesday.
“It won’t change our approach because the two boys trained on Tuesday and now it is a challenge for the new guys to slot in.
“We don’t have a left-footed kicking game at full-back and generally we don’t have the same level of kicking game.”
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