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Dublin: 20 °C Wednesday 5 August, 2020
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Schmidt squad hit by injuries in all the wrong places for Reid, Hanrahan and Jackson

While Joe Schmidt has had to reach down the depth chart in some areas, he was faced with difficult omissions in the back-line.

Grounded: Hanrahan.
Grounded: Hanrahan.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

HERE WE GO then, another international season. Joe Schmidt pushed the fast forward button today, naming an Ireland squad a week early – presumably because he couldn’t bear to tear up another draft due to a key player getting injured.

Though many of the big omissions are enforced, Schmidt has largely selected on form from what remains available to him.

Despite the blow to Andrew Trimble today, the back three options look potent and the name Darragh Leader stands out as much as it is welcome on the squad list; the versatile fullback’s reward for being an ever-present key part of the western revival.

The one area of the field in which injuries have not impacted Schmidt’s selection plans are in the number 10 jersey. Jonathan Sexton still has a few years before he’s anything other than a clear-cut first choice to play out-half, but 11 months out from the World Cup, the role of understudy is still very much up for grabs.

Ian Keatley’s recall to the international setup five years after winning his last cap is just rewards for his patience and quiet persistence. His display in Munster’s inter-pro win over Leinster and grace under pressure on Saturday make him the in-form number 10. Yet while the 27-year-old is brought back in under the international umbrella, younger playmakers have been left in the cold*.

Having been deputy to up until St Patrick’s weekend, Paddy Jackson will count himself unfortunate to miss out on the squad while Ian Madigan remains despite being shifted around three positions at his province.

Jonathan Sexton, Paddy Jackson and Paul O'Connell after the match Sexton and Jackson after Ireland's only defeat so far in 2014. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

It’s that very versatility that keeps Schmidt going back to Madigan and it would not be surprising if the Kiwi head coached viewed the goal-kicker as second choice in at least two positions.

In one of those areas, Schmidt has decided to say ‘maybe next time’ again to JJ Hanrahan. Noel Reid, having toured Argentina, is another paying a price for the necessity to accommodate Madigan outside of his favourite position at province and country.

Reid (24), Hanrahan and Jackson (both 22) are playmaking talents agonisingly close to making it on the big stage. On this occasion, the injuries have all seemed to fall in the pack and wider channels, so Schmidt will no doubt have left them plenty of homework to do to keep their mind sharp for when he does eventually come calling back.

Ian Madigan and Noel Reid celebrate Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The front row has not enjoyed the same charmed existence as those immediately behind the scrum (Sexton’s broken jaw accepted). It’s worth noting that Schmidt has named three fully grown tightheads to back up Mike Ross who picked up ‘a minor groin injury’ last week – including Rodney Ah You despite a less than auspicious debut tour in Argentina.

In the back-row, the call-up of the uncapped Leinster openside Dominic Ryan would make it appear that Schmidt is not prepared to move Peter O’Mahony across to the number seven jersey. So instead, the blindside will be fiercely contested between himself Rhys Ruddock and Robbie Diack with the same names in consideration for number eight should anything happen to the seemingly indestructible Jamie Heaslip.

Come 8 November however, it’s the midfield that will draw all eyes to see who is wearing that iconic number 13 jersey. In all probability, the gauntlet will be passed to Jared Payne. This, will certainly a form selection, but a plan that has been in the making for well over a year.

Jared Payne in action with Tommy Seymour McCloskey (left) misses out, while the Payne plan keeps its course. Source: Presseye/Stephen Hamilton/INPHO

Robbie Henshaw and Stuart Olding are the fresher-faced centres (the latter despite being held out of the Ulster side by Stuart McCloskey) named in the squad, but particularly with South Africa first up in the Aviva, Schmidt is most likely to select the more robust option of Payne alongside the tried, tested and trusted Gordon D’Arcy.

Only another week for these 37 players to get through.

TheScore.ie’s Irish XV of the Champions Cup weekend

Is Peter O’Mahony a 6,7 or 8 and does it even matter?

*For now.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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