Joe schmidt is determined to build up a pool of players with Test match experience in an effort to avoid injuries to key players ravaging his starting XV.
The New Zealander is into his fourth season of Irish rugby and has noted how spates of injuries have left the team crippled for vital Test matches. A combination of injury and suspension left Ireland without 18 players during the 2013 Six Nations but Schmidt is hoping to negate such blows by adding depth to the country’s pool of international players.
Ahead of this weekend’s clash with Australia, the former Leinster coach made six changes from the team that beat Samoa 40-9. He was keen to stress that players such as Conor Murray and Gordon D’Arcy were pulled back from the starting line-up, rather than dropped, to give run-outs to other squad members.
“It’s an opportunity to broaden the squad a little bit,” he said. “One of the things I feel we have to do is have 30, 35 players with the ability to play international rugby… It’s about trying to grow the group a little bit so we have competition within the squad; so we can be as competitive on the field as we can be.
Coming into this autumn series we had a mindset we would try to grow the squad to a degree, not to have to rely on the same starting 15.”
Murray, commented Schmidt, is still in contention for a starting role against the All Blacks. “I think Conor did well last week; I don’t think was anything wrong with his game,” he said. The scrum-half’s cover defence and service were both “fine” but Saturday is Reddan’s chance to put his hand up for selection for the New Zealand game.
Luke Marshall for Gordon D’Arcy is one of six changes in Ireland’s starting line-up. INPHO/Billy Stickland
Schmidt spent several minutes of this afternoon’s press briefing talking up Australia as a better side than their losing record [five wins, eight defeats] in 2013 suggests. “One of the things most people would acknowledge is that they’re on an upward curve,” he said. “They’ve got continuity in selection, that will really stand to them… They seem as though they are getting to where they want to be though, and that’s not ideal for us.”
Schmidt believes the Wallabies were unlucky to lose to England in Twickenham and successfully galloped away from Italy, after an iffy start, in their 50-20 victory at the weekend. Ewen McKenzie’s men defeated Argentina 54-17 in Rosario just over a month ago. That result, more than any other this season, has resonated with Schmidt. He said:
They are the first team in a long time to do that to Argentina [score over 50 points] in their own country… So if you do let them loose they will do some damage. We’ve got to try to limit their opportunity to get ball in unstructured situations with a bit of time and space.”
Schmidt was asked about Australia’s free-scoring mentality — similar to the Queensland Reds side McKenzie coached to Super Rugby success in 2011. He commented, “I could reel off a string of pretty threatening runners that they have, even discarding the backs, with Scott Fardy and Michael Hooper running they are pretty dynamic and problematic as well.
“Then Israel Folau out there [at full-back], and Adam Ashley-Cooper is world-class; he’s a pretty complete player. So the back-three are dangerous and through the middle Matt Toomua has certainly opened up a fair few teams. Tevita Kuridrani is a tall, athletic man, hard to contain.
“For us, there’s a fair few challenges, trying to limit their opportunities, particularly with a distribution base of Will Genia and Quade Cooper, who have great passing games.
The New Zealander has allowed himself to peek beyond Australia in order to build up a squad of Test-level players. Eager to build on his winning start, however, he has kept a strong spine in his starting line-up and will have them well drilled to squeeze the fun-loving Aussies for time and space.