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Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
# Opinion
Schmidt needs a good second season bounce in the cold November rain
Here’s Whiff of Cordite’s take on the lay of the land as a depleted Ireland face up to Tests against South Africa and Australia.

Reproduced with permission from WhiffOfCordite.com

WOW! ISN’T THIS exciting – we haven’t engaged in a proper spat of inter-provincial bickering since … February?

By the time March came along, Ireland were gathering pace en route to a Championship and it seemed churlish, then it was all a bit half-hearted when Argentina came along. But now it’s here – yay!  November internationals!

But seriously, Schmidt’s first season was incredible – nearly beating BNZ, then winning the Championship.Like Deccie, who had an incredibly effective beginning to his tenure, the challenge will be backing that up with a second season – one that will effectively ends in a World Cup.

Declan Kidney talks to his team before the match Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

 

Also like Deccie, the Milky Bar Kid got part of his success from a bounce from a previous season that didn’t reflect the real quality in the team – merely a previous coaching regime that had run its course. Eddie’s control freakery gave way to Deccie’s delegation to the players; which was in turn replaced by Schmidt’s technical coaching brilliance. Can the initial bounce be backed up?

One can reasonably expect some reversion to the mean this season, and retaining the Six Nations will be something they haven’t done since 1949 (although they shared in 1983 when going for a repeat, they would have finished second under today’s rules).

While we should be realistic about what expectations for this season are – two wins in November, four in the Six Nations are the par score for this group – they have set their own standards. Also, its worth being aware that the players were grumbling about the tough schedule Schmidt put them through in Argentina – its unlikely that will drop off, and some degree of fatigue is a risk. Plus you-know-who has left a gaping hole in the team.

Two wins in the coming weeks means beating Australia or the ‘Boks – all indications are the Wallaby game will be the one targeted, beating the Boks is tough enough, but without your primary ball carriers it’s virtually impossible – and we have lost DJ Church, Sean O’Brien, Iain Henderson and Andrew Trimble.

That said, it’s not all bad – O’Brien missed the entire Six Nations, Henderson was a sub in that tournament and Church and Trimby would be adequately replaced by Tommy Bowe and Jack McGrath. Puts pressure on depth though, doesn’t it.

Simon Easterby and Chris Henry Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The first choice pack pretty much picks itself given the missing list – McGrath, Besty, Ross, Toner, O’Connell, POM, Henry, Heaslip. Only one man different from the 6N pack, but Besty is struggling for form and fitness, Ross needs matchtime to get up to speed, and Chris Henry hasn’t quite been at his best of late. Sean Cronin will provide decent backup, another strong carrier and potential for weapons-grade impact late in matches, and will start one game minimum, but the rest of the forward squad ranges from the potential of Rhys Ruddock to the dicky lungs of Rodney Ah Here.

Sink or swim

We’d ideally like to see a couple of names pitched in to see if they sink or swim – the likes of James Cronin, Dave Foley and Dom Ryan might have something to offer to the squad in a RWC year – they might sink without trace,  but at least we’d know.

Ryan will most likely have to wait for the Georgia game but Cronin and Foley could make the bench against South Africa.  Two of Ah You, Stephen Archer and Tadgh Furlong are likely to get the dubious honour of scrummaging against the monstrous Georgians – gulp.

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In the backline, Conor Murray and J-Sex are miles ahead of their backups. Ian Keatley got rewarded for some decent early season form over a semi-fit Wee PJ but we suspect Ian Mad-Dog is Schmidt’s number two, though he has only started at 10 once this season.  One suspects they’ll do whatever possible to get Sexton on the pitch. In RWC terms, Eoin Reddan and Kieran Marmion are pretty much on the plane – but we’d like to see Marmion get a start and see how he does – against Georgia he might be behind a pack being marched backwards early on.

‘He’ll make his selection and stand by it’

And now, ah yes – time for the centres. We know this – Dorce will start against the Boks and Stuart Olding will see gametime at some point. Who will play outside? The consensus seems to have settled on Robbie “bosh” Henshaw (largely because BOD says it is so), but O’Reilly thinks Schmidt will value Jared Payne’s distribution and running angles more that the directness of the Connacht man. It certainly makes sense not to give Jean de Villers and Jan Serfontein what they eat for breakfast, but Payne has been pretty rubbish at 13 for Ulster. One suspects Schmidt won’t let the two guys shoot out on the field – there simply is not enough time for that – he’ll make his selection and stand by it. If it’s to be Payne or if it is to be Henshaw, let’s all make an effort, similar to the 2012 Six Nations when Keet Earls played the entire tournament there, to not jump down his throat each time he isn’t BOD.

Provided they are fully fit, Bob and Tommy Bowe will be inked into the team – Trimble is a big loss but Bowe is a pretty decent replacement to have. The other wing spot, in shades of a more innocent era (2012), appears to be between Craig Gilroy and Simon Zeebs. Schmidt doesn’t appear to be a massive fan of Zebo, while Gilroy looks to have returned to some impressive form this year after his career stalled last season.

Nonetheless, while Zebo hasn’t been quite as stellar with ball-in-hand, he appears to be putting a lot of effort into working really, really hard and brings a decent kicking game; he might just shade it.  Zebo and Bowe for Trimble and Dave Kearney; it might be injury-enforced but Ireland don’t appear to be losing too much in the trade.

Joe Schmidt Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

We already know Joe Schmidt is an excellent coach and Ireland have excellent players – if the success or failure of this series comes down to the Wobbly game, he’ll be up against another excellent coach and a team of excellent players. In a RWC year, its a good judge of where we are at, and how the team is shaping up – for you can be sure we won’t have a full deck in 11 months time.

You can read more from WhiffOfCordite here and follow them on Twitter @WhiffOfCordite.

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