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Schmidt backs hard-working Byrne in Irish back-line light on caps

The efforts to create depth in this Ireland squad did not end with Fiji.

Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“IF WE’RE LOOKING two years backwards, how do we go forward?”

Joe Schmidt’s rhetorical response to the latest query about any bad blood flowing over from the 2015 Rugby World Cup final defeat to Argentina does a decent job of summing up Ireland’s November series.

Peaking at Japan 2019 is the ultimate goal and this window has been about creating depth below some clearly established front-line combinations.

The centres, however, were not one of those tried and tested areas of the field and losing an energetic midfield enforcer of Robbie Henshaw’s ilk was not part of the plan when facing the Pumas on Saturday.

“I think at a push he could have potentially been involved,” said Schmidt, giving Leinster fans hope of seeing Henshaw shake off a ‘slight hamstring strain’ and take the field alongside Garry Ringrose for next month’s Champions Cup back-to-backs against Exeter.

The Athlone man wasn’t pushed though, and so Schmidt has put out another new centre partnership with Chris Farrell suiting up a week after his debut to join Bundee Aki.

“Really this window was for us to have a look at how guys go in pressure situations. Chris acquitted himself well last week and he got better as the game went on, so it’s another window of opportunity for him.”

Rob Kearney Extra weight on his shoulders: Kearney has 72 more caps than the four ahead of him combined. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It’s an opportunity for a whole host of players to experience something new.

There can’t have been many occasions when Rob Kearney looked at a three-quarter line in front of him that only had five caps to their name. That tally is heavily weighted to the left wing where that grizzled (21-year-old) veteran Jacob Stockdale boasts three.

Opposite him, it will be a debut day for Adam Byrne and he will seek a lot of chatter from Farrell and Kearney to help guide him through.

It’s been a long month of training at Carton House though, and Schmidt is confident that the Kildare man will slot in smoothly.

“With all the wingers we brought in, we wanted to have a look at how they trained and fitted in,” said the Kiwi with reference to further experience given to Andrew Conway and Stockdale as well as a debut for Darren Sweetnam.

(Byrne) has given us the confidence to include him, because he’s worked really hard, he’s picking things up all the time, and with a bit of experience in that back-line around him, I really hope he’ll get a good hit-out in his first game in the Irish jersey.”

“When you’re in a tough arena against the of attacking threats that they have… it will be a really challenging day for those outside backs, Adam and Jacob.”

The dearth of caps from 11 to 14 distracts from another big dig for depth by Schmidt in the second row. We’ve written before how consistently the Kiwi has selected Devin Toner for crucial matches. Yet a week after Kieran Treadwell was sent on with the Fiji game in the balance, Toner has been temporarily put aside to allow another young gun blaze a trail.

There are few who doubt that James Ryan is capable of making a quick step up to Test grade – much like his second row partner Iain Henderson did – so Schmidt doesn’t need to talk up the 21-year-old. He’s just looking forward to knowing a bit more about him.

Rory Best speaks to the team Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I thought his entry in the South Africa game was really positive. He’s a good athlete, James. He commits fully to the task, he’s an intelligent young man who’s adapted really well thus far.

“Now, he’s only really dipped his toe in so far. To get a start in such a big game, we’ll know a little bit more.”

Forward-thinking then. Learning and progressing are what this month is all about, says  Schmidt, certainly not the opportunity to redress one of the low points of his four years in charge.

“It’s just another game that we’ve got to try and get as much out of as we can. Because then we’re getting tight for time and we want to try and be up and running before the Six Nations comes up because that’s going to be tough.”

If we’re looking two years backwards how do we go forwards?

“We’re looking forward to the game on the weekend and then we’re looking forward to what we can learn from that so we can keep progressing. There’s a real danger in looking too far back.

“It’s just about trying to get a bit of cohesion, there’s new combinations, we’ll be a lot more focused on ourselves than on the Argentinians.”

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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