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Dublin: 8 °C Wednesday 19 December, 2018
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Conservatism well and truly cast aside with host of new combinations to face Canada

Joe Schmidt has put 17 of All Black-beaters on ice with the world champions coming for a return leg next week.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

FACED WITH TIER two opponents in one-off Tests like this, supporters and reporters alike love to see new faces thrown into the international arena.

It’s an easy thing to call for when your reputation and job isn’t on the line. Coaches are much more reticent to bleed fresh talent onto the scene, particularly more than one in a given area of the field.

In that context, Joe Schmidt’s team selection to face Canada on Saturday is an immensely exciting one. With the fixture sandwiched in between encounters with world champions New Zealand, it was always going to be an opportunity to rest and patch up front-liners. However, the Kiwi has gone further than that, retaining just six of the Chicago 23 – two of whom did not make it on to Soldier Field until after the final hooter.

“Obviously it’s frustrating not getting on, after building yourself up to get ready for a big game,” says Kieran Marmion, who could be seen tackling the other unused replacement Garry Ringrose behind the Ireland try-line with five minutes to go against New Zealand.

The Connacht scrum-half is understanding, of course. It’s not easy to make a case against leaving Conor Murray on the field under the circumstances.

Paddy Jackson Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

This weekend, two years after his Test debut, Marmion will make his seventh appearance for Ireland, his first start.

Combining him with Paddy Jackson at half-back seems a completely natural selection on the face of things as both men have been in or around the squad a long time.

Yet, because both Jackson and Marmion have found themselves slip down off the second-choice perch whenever Schmidt preferred Ian Madigan or Eoin Reddan, they have only 15 minutes of senior rugby minutes as a partnership.

Fortunately, their on-field relationship goes back further than a World Cup warm-up against Wales and the second Test in South Africa.

“I’ve played with Paddy since Under 20s, two years with Paddy there. So I should have a good understanding with him. Obviously we get a lot of reps together in training, so hopefully we should be able to click.”

Jack O'Donoghue Jack O'Donoghue is flanked by superstars in the back row. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

There’s a very fresh look to the midfield too, obviously with 25-year-old Luke Marshall the experienced head named to shepherd Garry Ringrose through his international debut. The Leinster tyro has been in impressive form early this season and has gelled well with Robbie Henshaw over their three matches together. However, after Jared Payne’s performance against the All Blacks, Ringrose and Henshaw will be far from an automatic choice for Schmidt to pluck from the provincial to international stage – at least until the Six Nations rolls around.

“It is a combination they are developing, as such,” the Kiwi says of the Leinster midfield, “but whether that’s sufficient… there almost have to be an intuitiveness. You don’t get a lot of time to communicate in those channels.

“It was one of those fantastic things, when I walked into Leinster there was Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll. They didn’t really have a lot to say to each other on the pitch. They just knew, by the body language, where the other guy was going.

Joe Schmidt Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“You get so little time (together) so if you can avoid the need for that communication, you are so much better off. That something that, potentially going forward is a really positive thing.”

Iain Henderson has been given one more weekend off after a shoulder injury to give him the best possible chance of facing the All Blacks with a full week of training under his belt. So Ultan Dillane gets his first start beside the experienced, but uncapped, Billy Holland. The rest of the pack looks a solid and proven unit with Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Sean O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony. But even then, the presence of Jack O’Donoghue adds some intrigue and spice alongside the tried and tested.

There’s so much to be excited about. That’s even before we talk about Tiernan O’Halloran in the middle of a zippy back three, a bench complete with five more uncapped players and a fired-up Dave Kilcoyne. Even the sight of Joey Carbery in the squad seems almost old hat.

“We always knew this week would be a bit complicated,” Schmidt explains, “because some of the guys that were going to play this week weren’t part of last week because we were away in Chicago. We needed people that could pick things up pretty quickly.”

Crazy comebacks, drought-ending wins, jet-lag, disrupted sleep patterns and then a host of new combinations…  can we go to Chicago more often?

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Sean Farrell

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