THOUGH THERE IS a wealth of experience in Joe Schmidt’s starting line-up to face Italy, preparations for the World Cup next year continue to bubble away under the surface.
Schmidt has not followed the lead of his compatriots or Eddie Jones’ England in naming official ‘apprentices’ in his squad, but calling a prospective player in to get a feel for camp – and, indeed, for Schmidt’s camp to get a feel for them – is nothing new.
Having named a squad to cover just the first two rounds of the Championship, injuries to Josh van der Flier and Andrew Conway did not make Schmidt feel the need to call up official replacements, but on this occasion the IRFU did choose to disclose that Jack O’Donoghue and Barry Daly had been drafted in for training in Maynooth.
Last week, centre Sam Arnold was mixed in for sessions with the squad and Schmidt also had Munster-bound Tadhg Beirne back in his native county to get acquainted with the setup.
“Tadhg came in and visited us so he spent a little bit of time with us. He is well able to slot back in,” Schmidt said in response to a query about both the Scarlets lock and Simon Zebo, inseparable subjects that led Schmidt to detail his packed match-viewing schedule this weekend ahead of considering a squad for Wales.
Schmidt insists Zebo ‘could easily slot back in’ when he names that group. However, as he won’t be employed on these shores for the World Cup, it would be a surprise.
Looking an increasingly sure thing to be in the squad for Japan, while also a man for the here and now, it is hoped that James Ryan will be fit to take a full part in next week’s shortened training programme, allowing him a clean run into round three and Wales.
“It’s more precautionary than anything else,” Schmidt says of Ryan’s calf problem, again pointing to a long-term view that takes account of the lock’s injury history.
“He is a young man who has had quite a few intermittent injury niggles through his development period… with some of those players it is about placing them. Now, he placed himself on Saturday in some of the most torrid trench warfare that you can imagine and won a lot more battles than he lost.
“I thought he was carrying incredibly strongly, his number of involvements was very high, his tackle reliability is fantastic. So a lot of what James brings we just want to make sure we look after.
“Because he didn’t train on Tuesday we decided that he wouldn’t play this week, so we didn’t bother training him today just as a precaution to give him a little bit more time so that, potentially, in camp in Athlone next week he can participate fully which is ideal in the competition going forward.”
Even if Ryan doesn’t recover to play a part in round three, he is firmly in Schmidt’s plans for the big days beyond.