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Thursday 2 February 2023 Dublin: 8°C
# XV calls
Schmidt's Ireland bring 'a good bite' as competition for places heats up
Joe Schmidt will confirm some big selection decisions on Thursday afternoon.

JOSH VAN DER Flier or Sean O’Brien at openside? Sean O’Brien or Peter O’Mahony on the bench?

Ultan Dillane or Donnacha Ryan in the engine room? Does Iain Henderson have a role to play now that he’s fully fit?

Has Keith Earls done enough to displace Simon Zebo or does he slot in as 23rd man? Paddy Jackson’s relative experience or Joey Carbery’s flair off the bench?

Rob Kearney and Jamie Heaslip Dan Sheridan / INPHO Rob Kearney and Jamie Heaslip at training yesterday. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

There are decisions aplenty for Joe Schmidt before he names his Ireland team to face the All Blacks on Thursday afternoon, the 23 chosen ones then attempting to beat the Kiwis for a second time in Dublin on Saturday.

While places were fiercely contested for the first meeting with Steven Hansen’s side, the return of the likes of O’Brien, O’Mahony and Earls has made this week an intense one around Carton House.

“There’s a good bite there,” says hooker Sean Cronin, who is hopeful of pushing captain Rory Best out of the team. “It’s great to see players of that calibre coming back with Sean and Pete.

There’s a good bite in training, there’s lads wanting to get back into that Test 15 and the 23 as well, so there’s going to be a lot of selection headaches. Guys need to perform in training and they need to be up to speed with everything.

“Joe and the rest of the staff have some headaches to deal with this week and it’s great for Irish rugby to have players like that coming back into the mix.”

This rabid competition for spots couldn’t have been better timed for Schmidt’s Ireland. They have repeatedly stated that they will have to be better this time around against the All Blacks, meaning that a batch of motivated individuals is a minimum requirement.

While last weekend’s Canada clash was dropped in between the two New Zealand games, it seems like only yesterday that Ireland won in Chicago.

Joe Schmidt Dan Sheridan / INPHO Schmidt at Carton House. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Their review of that historic 40-29 success was not sugarcoated, particularly on the defensive side of the game.

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“Andy [Farrell] got into us a bit over how soft the tries that we conceded were,” says Cronin. “We didn’t put them under too much pressure and they didn’t have to break us necessarily to get over for their scores, which was a bit frustrating.

Other areas of the game were right up there, which maybe kept us ticking over nicely. Their discipline I don’t think will be as bad this weekend; they gave away a lot of penalties which probably left us into the game as well.

“[Schmidt] was happy enough, but there’s always areas to improve on with Joe.”

The win in Soldier Field was unforgettable but Cronin feels that losing to the All Blacks in Dublin “probably would” take some of the gloss off.

For Schmidt and Ireland, the challenge is to prove that they are no longer a ‘one-off win’ team, that they are capable of backing up excellent performances with more excellence.

Consistency is the goal.

Conor Murray, Keith Earls and Ultan Dillan Dan Sheridan / INPHO Conor Murray, Keith Earls and Ultan Dillane watch training. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s funny you mention that word,” says Cronin. “It’s something that we’ve been trying to really plug the last couple of seasons.

If you want to be respected on the world stage you’ve got to bring that consistency of performance. There’s no point in having that result, a flash in the pan.

“It’s great, it’s fantastic to get that win off the back after the 111 years, but we’re a team that’s looking to be respected by other nations in terms of our consistency and our level of performance, so it’s a big driving factor for us.”

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