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Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup

Players Picked Are ‘All Quality Contributors’ – Schmidt

Players Picked Are ‘All Quality Contributors’ – Schmidt

Joe Schmidt said telling players they have missed out on Rugby World Cup selection is the ‘brutal reality’ of what international coaches have to do. Read on for his thoughts on some of the ‘big calls’ regarding Ireland’s 31-man squad for England 2015.

ON THE SQUAD AS A WHOLE: “I like the fact that they’re all quality contributors. I like the fact that I do think we can pose a threat to opposition teams across the board. I think we can play with width. We can play narrow if the conditions determine that we need to. I think we can mix up our game sufficiently with the personnel we’ve got and hopefully we’ll get the opportunity to do all of that.

“I like the fact that we’ve got some really good experience and we’ve got some really good eagerness of youth. I like the mix of experience the players bring from the different provinces. The competitiveness within the squad is also very good.”

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ON THE FITNESS OF CIAN HEALY AND KEITH EARLS: “Cian’s cleared to play, he’s fit to play. Probably the only problem is whether he is ready to fit in and play. He’s been working a lot individually. He’s been in and out of team sessions but quite often not doing the whole session. So he’s acquitted himself well. We’ll confirm a decision around Thursday about him (regarding the England game).

“And Keith is very good. He’s following the return-to-play protocols. He hasn’t trained with the team, he won’t be involved at the weekend but I’d say he’d be cleared to play by the weekend following the protocols because there are no recurring problems.”

ON TADHG FURLONG’S INCLUSION: “Tadhg has been done some good work at loosehead at training. He was loosehead when he was younger although it couldn’t have been too long ago because he’s still young! Tadhg has really impressed us. Michael Bent is very unlucky to miss out but apart from taking six specialist props there are not too many ways around that.

“We feel we have sufficient balance with two specialist tightheads and two specialist looseheads and Tadhg, who is a specialist tighthead but has covered loosehead in the past and has trained there effectively enough for us to believe he could play there.”

ON IAN MADIGAN COVERING SCRUM HALF:Ian Madigan will cover scrum half. It was in the back of our minds. I spoke to Ian about it last season. It’s not suddenly. It’s something Ian did some work on it off season so he’s been quietly preparing himself for that to potentially happen.

“It wasn’t what we were going to do. We had discussions with various players to play different positions. We knew we couldn’t have total coverage with 31 players. Ian has done individual training. He hasn’t trained in the team very much but in the last week he’s started to slot in and do a little bit with the team.

“The decision (regarding the scrum halves) was based on minimising risk and while it is a risk in itself, I would like to think it is calculated. and we’ve given it as much thought as we could. It allowed us a little more flexibility further out (in the back-line).”

ON THE PLAYERS TO MISS OUT: “I’d like to think that the relationships with players are reasonably positive and I think it was probably me that was more emotional than the players. They knew what the decision was when they saw my name on their phone and they were resigned to the fact when they answered the call.

“It was then difficult to have the conversation with them but it’s incredibly encouraging for me, being the one to make the phone call, how positive they were about – ‘I’m going to keep making decisions difficult for you. I’m going to keep working and I want to be involved in the future, I want to be involved in the very short term future’.

“Unfortunately you get to establish pretty strong relationships with these players because you work so hard with them and so closely with them that it’s disappointing, for us as well as for them. It’s the brutal reality of what we have to do.

“If it wasn’t a big call with Andrew Trimble, it would have been a big call with someone else in the back-three. That was one of the most discussed positions. I think we spent six hours on Sunday and for some of those hours Andrew Trimble was going to the World Cup with us and for some he wasn’t. That’s how tight it was.

“I think the difference was that Andrew had played 34 minutes in a Test match (against Wales last month). He played 80 minutes for Ulster (last Friday). But he’d hurt the foot again and it interrupted his opportunity to best press for the position and time ran out for him. Certainly ability, commitment and what he’s contributed when he has played for us all counted for him and that’s why it was one of the very, very difficult decisions we had to make.

“Some players would be closer to being involved than others, but certainly the back-three with Felix Jones, who has been an unbelievably positive contributor and has that utter reliability as part of what’s in his locker. We feel with Andrew Trimble, Felix Jones and Fergus McFadden, and again Fergus as a goal kicker – he kicked a very nice goal at Donnybrook and missed one right from the edge and not by very far on Friday (against Moseley). He also has a little bit of flexibility to cover the midfield, so we’d probably adapt with that.

“I think when we decided that Simon Zebo had played well at full-back and Rob Kearney, we believe, played well on the weekend (against Wales), to have three full-backs was probably too many.

“Felix has played on the wing for us as well, but we had other specialist wings and those three players probably appeared on the list as often as they didn’t. At the end of the day, that was the balance that we went for.

Martin Moore (who was recovering from shoulder surgery and then suffered a foot injury) has had a massive role in the last two Six Nations and he was obviously a guy that was uppermost in our thinking. But we didn’t have the clearance on him. The foot was still annoying him and therefore if you can’t do that, you can’t scrum and you can’t get around the pitch.”

ON THE CENTRE OPTIONS: “Again, with the midfield we feel we’ve enough cover. It’s a little bit of a manufactured midfield. Robbie (Henshaw) hadn’t played 12 until he came into this environment. Jared (Payne) had played more full-back than 13 and Robbie had played more full-back than 13 in recent years. We wanted one specialist midfielder in there to play 12 or 13.

Darren Cave’s performances at training and in the match away to Wales meant he was deserving to be involved. His flexibility and positivity in the environment are real pluses for us.

“We feel that among those five (Henshaw, Payne, Cave, Luke Fitzgerald and Keith Earls) plus Ian Madigan who can move in there…having Ian cover nine and 10, to expect him to cover 12 as well is a little bit of an expectation and therefore we wanted to go with the specialist 12 and 13.”

ON HIS OWN WORLD CUP EXPECTATIONS: “I don’t have any expectations of achievement. I have lots of hopes. I probably have an expectation we can work as hard as we can, an expectation we will take it one game at a time because there are banana skins early on in our pool.

“I have said that for us, we want to try to get to that last four, if we can. That’s probably my hope. My expectation is a bit more pragmatic and a little more short-term focused.”