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Dublin: 3°C Wednesday 14 April 2021

Schmidt's late decisions, Toner restored and more Ireland team talking points

The head coach has reverted to the tried and trusted for the All Blacks clash.

JOE SCHMIDT HAS unveiled his team for Saturday’s meeting of the world’s first and second ranked teams, with Ireland’s starting XV for the All Blacks here

Below, we take a closer look at the key selection decisions. 

Devin Toner Ireland training at Carton House this morning. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Four changes  

This was, by in large, an as predicted selection from Schmidt, as the loss of Robbie Henshaw, Seán O’Brien and Conor Murray earlier in the week simplified the equation to a degree.

Three of his four changes were injury-enforced while the return of Devin Toner for Iain Henderson was as expected, given the manner in which the lineout misfired against Argentina last week.

Rob Kearney’s return from the shoulder injury which forced him out of the games against Italy and the Pumas earlier in this autumnal programme is a major fillip, particularly when you consider the 32-year-old’s experience and composure in the air.

Similarly, the fit-again Ringrose comes back into the Ireland midfield and his presence in the 13 shirt is equally reassuring, with the Leinster centre adding more balance to Schmidt’s attacking game as well as his ability to marshal the outside channels. 

Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

Henshaw’s absence with the hamstring injury he pulled up with last week heightened the importance of Ringrose’s fitness, as the 23-year-old resumes his Grand Slam-winning partnership with Bundee Aki.

From that game in Twickenham last St Patrick’s Day, there are just two changes in personnel with Toner in ahead of Iain Henderson and Kieran Marmion deputising for Murray at scrum-half.

This was very much Schmidt reverting to the tried and trusted.

 The second row conundrum 

Outstanding off the bench last weekend, Dan Leavy left no doubt over the identity of Ireland’s openside this week, but one of Schmidt’s big headaches was in the uber-competitive second row department. 

James Ryan James Ryan will win his 13th cap at the weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Toner, who has played in 55 of Schmidt’s 60-game reign — the most of any player — saw his stock rise last week as the lineout malfunctioned against the Pumas, and after restoring calm to the situation off the bench, the Meath native wins his 63rd cap this weekend.

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The Leinster second row is arguably the most undervalued, and perhaps under-appreciated, player in the squad — as evidenced last weekend — and his experience and organisation at the set-piece will be crucial.

Not only will Ireland need to be firing on all cylinders in this area if they are to record a first home win over the All Blacks, they will need to nullify the threat of Brodie Retallick, who caused havoc at Twickenham last weekend.

Henderson, consistently excellent and regularly performing to a world-class standard, is unlucky to be dropped to the bench, but Toner’s status as a ball-winner — both at lineouts and restarts — is absolutely pivotal to the way Ireland play.  

A word, too, for Tadhg Beirne who again misses out completely. The Munster lock/back row’s omission demonstrates the incredible strength in depth which exists within Schmidt’s squad, but is harsh nonetheless.

Bench firepower

Schmidt revealed he left it until the last minute on Thursday morning to finalise his 23 for Saturday, but didn’t go as far to say which positions he was uncertain over — but no doubt there were difficult calls regarding the bench.

Jordan Larmour Larmour is named on the bench. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

As captain, Rory Best was always going to retain his starting berth but the Ulster hooker is being pushed by Niall Scannell, Rob Herring and Sean Cronin, the latter getting the nod to add firepower off the bench on Saturday. 

Dave Kilcoyne appears to be getting closer at loosehead but again it is Andrew Porter and Jack McGrath tasked with adding muscle to the equation in the second half, while Henderson can cover both the second and back row.

Josh van der Flier, who started against Italy, is the replacement flanker ahead of Jordi Murphy and Rhys Ruddock — both of whom were heavily involved in this morning’s session — while Luke McGrath has to settle for a replacement role again.

Jack Conan is among those left out completely, and Jordan Larmour’s X-Factor saw him beat Andrew Conway and Will Addison to the number 23 jersey. 

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Ryan Bailey

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