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Ireland have to stay 'open-minded' on selection after poor performances

The likes of Jack Conan and Andrew Conway will be desperate for further chances.
Aug 26th 2019, 6:30 AM 15,908 68

THERE WERE ALWAYS going to be changes to the Ireland team for Saturday’s clash with Wales in Cardiff, regardless of the outcome at Twickenham, but the hammering Joe Schmidt’s side took accentuates the need to mix things up.

The value of not being overly loyal with selection has been underlined recently by England boss Eddie Jones, who discarded previously important players such as Ben Te’o and Danny Care in naming his 31-man World Cup squad a month earlier than required.

We’ve seen the likes of Lewis Ludlam and Willi Heinz introduced into the England squad at a late stage, clearly adding energy and reminding many other players in Jones’ group that they are not untouchable.

rory-best-dejected-after-the-game Many of Ireland's key players underperformed in London. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

In the wake of a record defeat at Twickenham and with his own big decisions still to make for his 31-man squad, Schmidt pointed to Jones’ methods as something he could possibly replicate.

“We have to be open-minded,” said Schmidt when asked if the defeat in London had seen first-choice players doing themselves damage.

“I think Eddie’s selection is open-minded. He’s put some guys in there who hadn’t really formally been that involved in the England set-up.

“So for us, we’ll be looking hard and long – and it’s not going to be pleasant – at the footage and trying to piece together who has stood up and deserves to be in the 31 and who is under pressure.”

Several will surely be in the latter category now, even within Ireland’s first-choice starting XV, although it’s important for us to remind ourselves that some players have deservedly got plenty of credit in the bank.

CJ Stander’s status as Ireland’s first-choice number eight has been hard-earned since he moved into the slot full-time in November 2017 but Jack Conan’s standout season with Leinster in 2018/19 makes him a genuine contender.

Having struggled to make a consistent impact during this year’s Six Nations, Stander was poor at Twickenham and only managed to contribute three carries, when he is usually Ireland’s leader in that regard. It would be foolish and unfair to discount the Munster man at this stage, but Conan deserves an opportunity to bring his energy against Wales.

It was a bad day for captain Rory Best at Twickenham too, his only real highlight a linebreak off Tadhg Furlong’s clever inside pass, with his lineout throwing struggling as the set-piece disintegrated.

That certainly does not solely rest on Best’s throwing but he was short of the kind of no-nonsense form he showed in a wildly successful 2018. Again, there is no need to write him off but, at 37, Best needs to show he can continue to contribute beyond just being the captain.

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jack-conan Jack Conan could add real energy for Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Peter O’Mahony wasn’t an influence from the blindside either, although he did compete strongly on England’s lineout throw and his set-piece skills would likely to see him continue as the first-choice at blindside flanker. Rhys Ruddock and Tadhg Beirne – a fine defensive jumper too – would dearly love a starting chance against Wales, however.

Josh van der Flier’s work-rate is never in question, but he wasn’t able to add punch against the imposing English side from the openside, where Tommy O’Donnell and Jordi Murphy are the other options for Schmidt after the huge loss of Dan Leavy to injury.

In the second row, Jean Kleyn failed to make a consistent impact in what was a ferocious contest, while Iain Henderson’s poor lineout calling showed the value of Devin Toner once again. James Ryan is obviously nailed-on to start as one of the locks.

Cian Healy’s injury is worrying for Schmidt, with the Leinster man so key, and Jack McGrath didn’t quite get up to speed off the bench, leaving Dave Kilcoyne with an opportunity to perhaps secure his place in the 31-man squad with a big impact against Wales.

Tadhg Furlong showed some promising signs at tighthead but also made the kind of errors that stifled Schmidt’s team. John Ryan and Andrew Porter are still vying for the back-up slot.

Other established players like centres Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose had weak games against England and made uncharacteristic errors in defence but Schmidt understands that one bad performance doesn’t decide anything.

Robbie Henshaw has yet to feature in the warm-up matches, while Chris Farrell is a very real contender, even for a starting role. The Munster man is an intelligent player and offers the kind of physicality that Ireland lacked against the English.

In the back three, Jacob Stockdale made many mistakes at Twickenham but his try-scoring record is a massive plus if Ireland can sort their supply from set-piece.

james-ryan James Ryan has yet to feature in the warm-ups. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Keith Earls’ return is eagerly anticipated by Schmidt. A vital player in this Ireland team, his influential ability will add so much. Rob Kearney started impressively at fullback against England before contributing to the error count as the game wore on. 

Will Addison, having been recovering from injury earlier this summer, has yet to feature in the warm-up games, while the industrious and energetic Andrew Conway would love another chance, as would Dave Kearney.

At scrum-half, Conor Murray played only 33 minutes, meaning he didn’t have enough time to get up to the pitch on his first outing of the season but it was notable that Luke McGrath was one of the better performers after replacing the Munster man. McGrath is in a close battle with Kieran Marmion, a proven performer under Schmidt.

As for out-half, Ross Byrne will hope for another start against the Welsh, but Schmidt may be inclined to give Jack Carty a chance as Joey Carbery continues his rehabilitation from an ankle injury and Johnny Sexton likely keeps the feet up for another weekend.

Whatever happens next, Twickenham has certainly given Schmidt plenty of food for thought.

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Murray Kinsella

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