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5 questions for Joe Schmidt's Ireland as the November Tests loom

Outside centres, the line-out, new caps, being clinical and the Georgia encounter.

AS PROVINCIAL FOCUS returns to the Pro12 this week, Joe Schmidt and his Ireland squad have assembled at Carton House to begin their preparation for the November Tests.

Ahead of the clashes with South Africa on 8 November, Georgia on 16 November and Australia on 22 November, we’ve outlined five questions for head coach Schmidt and his coaching team.

Who starts at 13?

There has been much focus on the form of [or lack of, as perceived in some quarters] Jared Payne at outside centre for Ulster in recent weeks, while Robbie Henshaw has gone about business with Connacht under the radar.

Ireland's Robbie Henshaw Henshaw is hungry to add to his tally of Ireland caps. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The 21-year-old scored two tries against La Rochelle two weekends ago, but was withdrawn halfway through last weekend’s heavy defeat in Exeter in order to manage his individual workload.

Against South Africa on 8 November, the impression is that Henshaw’s power and appetite for contact would be best suited to the task. That said, Schmidt is on the record as stating that Payne is in strong contention to make his debut at 13.

Can Ireland be more clinical in the 22?

It seems like an age ago at this stage, but Ireland’s most recent reference points on the pitch are the June Tests in Argentina. There were positives among that pair of victories, but Schmidt was understandably frustrated by other aspects.

Ian Madigan runs in for a try Ireland felt they left tries behind in Argentina. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Chief among the latter was Ireland’s lack of a clinical edge in the opposition 22. Superb scoring chances were created on several occasions, but errors, strong defence and a lack of cutting edge from close range denied Ireland further tries.

Every team in the world has to make their visits into the opposition 22 count, but against two of the best in South Africa and Australia, Schmidt’s men will need to be ultra clinical. Missed chances will almost certainly mean defeats.

Will the line-out strengths continue?

John Plumtree made a notable impact during his short tenure as forwards coach last season, overseeing an excellent Irish line-out and maul. Paul O’Connell remains in situ to run those elements of Ireland’s game on the pitch, but Simon Easterby is now the man in charge off it.

Paul O'Connell wins a line-out Paul O'Connell's presence should see Ireland maintain their line-out quality. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A high-quality line-out forward in his playing days, the former Scarlets head coach is under immediate pressure to ensure that Schmidt’s side continue to be provided with a strong platform to attack from, and to attack through.

In terms of personnel, Devin Toner, Peter O’Mahony, O’Connell and Dave Foley provide exceptional line-out abilities, but retaining the organisation and understanding of last season will be key.

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How many news caps are there to be?

It seems certain that Payne and Nathan White will become Ireland internationals in November, but what of the other three uncapped players in Schmidt’s 37-man group?

Kieran Marmion supported by Denis Buckley and Nathan White Nathan White [right] will expect to make his Ireland debut. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

We have mentioned Munster second row Foley above, and it does appear likely that he will muscle his way onto the international scene too. Schmidt has mentioned that he feels the 26-year-old can add extra bulk to his frame, but Foley’s aggression makes him a good bet.

Dominic Ryan and Darragh Leader are the remaining new faces around Carton House, although the former is well known to Schmidt. Are that duo ready for the exceptional demands of Test match rugby?

What purpose does the Georgia match serve?

In that vein, how Schmidt views the Georgia clash on 16 November will be of particular interest. Against the side ranked 15th in the world by the IRB, does the Kiwi coach blood all of his less experienced players or look for full-strength continuity ahead of the Wallabies clash?

Ian Keatley Should Keatley feature against the Georgians? Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It seems likely that the answer will fall in the midpoint between those two extremes, with relative newcomers featuring alongside some steadying experience.

Schmidt has underlined the strength of the Georgian pack, particularly the front row, but the likes of Stephen Archer, Robbie Diack, Foley, Richardt Strauss and Dave Kilcoyne will have high hopes of earning plenty of game time.

In the backs, Kieran Marmion, Ian Keatley, Stuart Olding, and Felix Jones have all offered up reminders of their abilities early this season and might expect to feature.

What teams would you like to see picked for the three games? How many new caps will there be throughout the three Tests? Can Ireland claim a clean sweep?

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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