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Schmidt backs 'good scrummaging hooker' Scannell, with Cronin missing out

The Leinster hooker is absent from the matchday 23 for the second Test against the Wallabies.

Murray Kinsella reports from Melbourne

THERE HAD BEEN an expectation that this tour of Australia would provide Sean Cronin with starting chances at hooker in Rory Best’s absence.

But after coming off the bench in last weekend’s 18-9 defeat to the Wallabies, the Leinster man misses out on the matchday 23 altogether for the second Test in Melbourne on Saturday.

Munster’s Niall Scannell is instead handed a surprise start in the number two shirt, with Rob Herring – who was impressive as the starter in the first Test – moving to the bench as Ireland look to level the series.

Niall Scannell Niall Scannell starts at hooker for Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Cronin’s absence is understood to be linked to the penalty Ireland conceded to the Wallabies at scrum time in the 69th minute in Brisbane, allowing the hosts to move 11-9 in front.

Ireland appear to have concerns over Cronin’s relative lack of bulk, with the Leinster hooker weighing in at around 101kg, whereas Scannell and Herring, as well as regular starter Best, are heavier.

While Cronin is superb in the wide channels, it seems Ireland’s review of his work in the tight has cost him selection this weekend.

Asked about the inclusion of Scannell – who was not named in Ireland’s original touring squad but replaced the injured Best – in the starting team for Saturday, head coach Joe Schmidt underlined the importance of his work in the scrum.

“Niall played right through the Six Nations last year for us, so he’s a guy who, when he got his opportunity [starting against Italy] when Rory Best was unwell, did a super job for us,” said Schmidt of the seven-times capped Cork man.

“We’re giving him another opportunity to impress. With Niall, he’s a good scrummaging hooker and that will add a little bit to an area where we weren’t as strong as we normally are.

“With Niall, it is a real opportunity for him to probably galvanise that pack and take a step forward at scrum time.”

It remains to be seen if Cronin features for Ireland in the third Test in Sydney but his exclusion for this weekend’s game will come as a major disappointment.

Sean Cronin arrives for training Sean Cronin will be gutted to miss out. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Cronin has won 62 caps for Ireland but only nine of those have been in the starting team.

Schmidt confirmed that a handful of players had been limited in training this week by injuries.

“A couple of guys are carrying niggles,” said Schmidt. “Bundee Aki has that ankle and that’s kind of niggled away at him. He is able to play, but we’ll leave him out this weekend.

“Iain Henderson twisted his knee a little bit, again it’s just niggly.

“There’s a few other guys who didn’t train on Tuesday, they were just a bit sore really. It was a relatively physical game last week, some of those contacts.

“Some of [those who didn't train on Tuesday] are starting and some of them aren’t, most of them trained, but some of them didn’t. We kept them out of the contact really.”

Jacob Stockdale, missing from the matchday 23, was one of those who didn’t train on Tuesday after a bruising first Test and his non-involvement this weekend means Andrew Conway comes into the team on the right wing, with Keith Earls switching to the left.

“Andrew Conway didn’t get to play in the Six Nations, he was injured, but did a great job in November,” said Schmidt. “It’s a great opportunity for him.

Andrew Conway Andrew Conway will start on the right wing. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Jacob was a guy who didn’t train on Tuesday, he’s just a little sore. He’s fully fit but we’ll give Andrew an opportunity this week.

“Jordan [Larmour] gives us cover in the back three and in midfield as well, so hence he’s on the bench and we’ll give Jacob a chance to get himself right potentially for next week.”

The returns to the starting lineout of Johnny Sexton, Healy, Furlong, Devin Toner, Dan Leavy and Garry Ringrose should also provide Ireland with added impetus in Melbourne.

“It is a good mix,” said Schmidt.

“Tadhg and Cian came off the bench last week and they were disappointed they didn’t see through the positive endgame we were looking for

“Johhny always brings organisation up front, so I know that he will be enthusiastic.

“Garry Ringrose did a fantastic job in the last two games of Six Nations. He will be looking to hit the ground running.”

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Murray Kinsella

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