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Ireland looking for blend of experience and form in team to face All Blacks

Joe Schmidt has some important decisions to confirm tomorrow.

LARMOUR OR KEARNEY?

O’Mahony or Beirne or Ruddock?

Which two of Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, and Chris Farrell?

Which replacement hooker? Who covers lock and the back row in the number 19 and 20 jerseys?

Andrew Conway at 23 or Larmour to cover the outside backs? 

a-view-of-training Ireland at training in Tokyo yesterday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Joe Schmidt and his coaching staff had several conundrums when it came to picking their team to face the All Blacks, a selection which will have been communicated to the players by now and which is due to officially announced at 8am Irish time on Thursday.

That Ireland actually had important decisions to make is obviously a hugely welcome scenario. This time four years ago, injuries and a suspension meant that Schmidt and co. were essentially ensuring they could cobble together a full matchday 23.

This time around, Bundee Aki is missing due to suspension, but every other player in their 31-man squad is fit and available for selection.

Joey Carbery’s ankle issue has fully healed up and he looked good off the bench against Samoa, Rob Kearney’s groin strain has cleared, and Jordi Murphy’s ribs have recovered sufficiently for him to be in the mix once again.

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The question for Schmidt and co. in a couple of key starting position essentially seems to come down to this – stay loyal to the experienced and proven quality of longstanding first-choice players or throw something different into the mix with in-form personnel? 

The fullback decision is an intriguing one, with Jordan Larmour’s impressive energy and attacking skills offering Schmidt something different to Kearney, whose composure, backfield coverage and aerial skills should not be ignored.

While Larmour is in superb form, it is hard to think that Schmidt would go into a World Cup quarter-final against the All Blacks without Kearney in the number 15 shirt, which has had occupied on so many of the big days in the Schmidt era.

Similarly, vice-captain Peter O’Mahony has earned Schmidt’s loyalty by delivering outstanding displays on the biggest occasions, as well as providing a level of leadership that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Ireland themselves insist they have had to consider form as a primary factor in selection this week – O’Mahony and Kearney have been playing well, it should be said – but experience is a large factor in the decision-making too.

“You’d like to think you get a balance,” said assistant coach Simon Easterby yesterday. “A World Cup is a lot about form, very quickly it starts and very quickly it can be over.

“We have to look at it and balance selection experience but also form at the time. It’s a short window to get things right and if you don’t get it quite right, you can be on the way home.

“It’s great that we have so much to talk about selection. That maybe wasn’t the case four years ago when we had a terrific game but a brutal one against France and we were patching each other up for that quarter-final.

“This week is about putting the best team available that we believe is the right one to go out and perform and get a result against the All Blacks. With that will come a number of debates and quandaries about who is the best person in each position.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Tokyo

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