Tuesday 23 July 2019

Prove your worth or face axe, Joe Schmidt warns starting XV

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt during yesterday’s training session in Cardiff
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt during yesterday’s training session in Cardiff
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Joe Schmidt has challenged his starting XV to prove that they are worth a place in his team when they take the field for tomorrow's World Cup opener against Canada.

Despite losing Robbie Henshaw to a hamstring injury for the first game, the Ireland coach has named a strong side and wants more from his players as Luke Fitzgerald replaces the Connacht star at No 12.

Henshaw pulled up at the end of Tuesday's training session and while a scan revealed some blood on the muscle there is no tear and it is hoped he'll be available to face Romania on Sunday week.

The New Zealander has rewarded pre-season form players Dave Kearney, Keith Earls and Iain Henderson with starts against the North Americans, who are without their captain Tyler Ardron due to injury.

With Tommy Bowe and Devin Toner among those missing out, Schmidt hopes established operators will be kept on their toes.

"It's probably not a message to the squad, as much what we feel was the best combination," he said. "If it is reflected in that way amongst the squad, hopefully that's a signal that A: everybody's got a chance of selection, and B: those selected need to make sure that they keep working hard to stay selected.

"Over the last four Test matches, we haven't started the same team. The players knew we were looking at different combinations and personnel. I don't think anyone felt that they were automatic selections.

"Maybe there's a couple of players who could have been afforded that luxury, but there's a few players who have been selected who probably need to show a bit more, and there's some players who've shown a bit."

Schmidt conceded that he is "relieved" to be able to pick prop Cian Healy on the bench after his long absence as a result of the neck surgery.

"Cian needs to be able to play this week," he said. "We felt he probably could have played two weeks ago but we just felt it was probably a risk. He's more prepared now."

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