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Paul Wallace: Madigan and D'Arcy have been the best centre combination this year

The former Ireland prop thinks the Henshaw/Payne partnership is risky but important for Joe Schmidt to build his side.

Wallace is worried about the Irish scrum against South Africa.
Wallace is worried about the Irish scrum against South Africa.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

YOU CAN ALREADY hear the chants from the stand at the Aviva this Saturday if Ireland upset the odds and topple the heavily favoured Springboks, ‘Joe Schmidt, he does what he wants!’.

The Ireland coach has delivered for Irish rugby fans at every turn, but his selection of Robbie Henshaw at 12 and Jared Payne at 13 will put his innate rugby brain to the test once more.

The conventional wisdom was to expect Henshaw or Payne but nobody had accounted for Henshaw AND Payne. Former Ireland international prop and Sky pundit Paul Wallace is surprised with Schmidt’s centre selections and mentioned a different duo who he feels have been the form midfield so far this year.

“Henshaw  hasn’t done anything incredible this year but he is a big solid guy and he is very physical,” Wallace said.

“But I don’t think Payne has been in form at centre this year. At fullback he would give Rob Kearney a run for his money but his performances at centre haven’t been as good.

“I think the way Ian Madigan and Gordon D’Arcy have been going, they have been the best combo. Unless his injury is very bad, I’m surprised D’Arcy isn’t there to partner one of them.”

But while Wallace isn’t completely sold on Ireland’s latest centre partnership, he does recognise the need to build a squad ahead of the World Cup.

Ian Madigan Wallace has been impressed with Ian Madigan's form this year. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The top-tier nations all have ludicrously deep benches and only by trying out new players will Ireland be able to boast a similar level of strength in depth.

“The November series should be about looking at combos,” Wallace said.

“Joe Schmidt isn’t looking at it going game to game. He is taking a more holistic approach and has his eye on the end of next year with the World Cup. Looking towards the World Cup, I think you need two quality players for each position so this is an important series for Ireland.”

A major concern for Ireland ahead of the Springbok clash is the health of the front row and how it will impact the scrum. Mike Ross hasn’t played a game in a month, Rory Best has just been ruled out and Jack McGrath will have to step up in place of Cian Healy.

Wallace thinks Ireland’s strength in depth, especially at tighthead, will be severely tested.

“Missing Rory Best is big for Ireland because he is a very good scrummaging hooker,” Wallace said.

“Ireland scrummage very high and that can be exploited by the South Africans. I hope I am wrong but I don’t think Rodney Ah You will be able to cope with the South African power.

“And at this stage of his career you probably won’t be able to get more than 50 minutes out of Mike Ross.”

However, Wallace was also quick to say that there are ways for Ireland to cope with the South Africa forward push.

Rodney Ah You Can Rodney Ah You compete with the Springboks at the scrum? Paul Wallace doesn't think so. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“The South Africans actually aren’t the best technical scrummagers,” Wallace said.

“They usually just opt for the biggest guys so if you are technical you can get an advantage.

“The Beast (loosehead Tendai Mtawarira) has been out-scrummaged by a few props who were able to get under him. Adam Jones did that very effectively on the 2009 Lions Tour.”

One area where Wallace feels Ireland can gain an advantage is at the lineout. It might be a little optimistic to think that a unit with Victor Matfield, Eben Etzebeth and Bakkies Botha can be exploited but Wallace thinks Ireland have enough tools to cause the visitors problems.

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“Matfield is obviously world class and Etzebeth is on his way to being one of the best in the world but we have a lot of very good lineout options too,” Wallace said.

“Toner, O’Connell, O’Mahony and Heaslip can all be used very well so I think we have enough options to keep it away from Matfield. Sean Cronin has had some wobbles at the lineout this season but he works together with Toner at club level and that is important.”

Dave Foley and Paul O'Connell O'Connell vs Matfield is one of rugby's great battles. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

One of the other selections battles that faced Joe Schmidt was whether to go with Craig Gilroy or Simon Zebo on the wing. Wallace thinks that Zebo’s exile from the national set-up has forced him to work hard on his own game, and says the success of that is what has the Munster wing back in the squad.

“When he first broke into the side people were wondering whether he was applying himself and nobody wanted to give it to him too easily,” Wallace said.

“But since he has been gone from the side he has improved so much from that end. As the Americans would say, his ‘hustle’ has gotten a lot better.”

As for a prediction, Wallace thinks covering the six point handicap would be a decent result.

“South Africa are at full strength and it is set up for them to win so if Ireland can keep it to one score I think they will be doing well,” Wallace said.

“I think when we take on Australia in a few weeks time with a fuller deck, we should be targeting the win”

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