Goal-kicking, versatility and running threats: Schmidt explains his bench calls

The Kiwi will stick by his preference for versatile backs over specialists, but there is a different process behind his hooker selection.

“IT’S A CONCERTINA effect. If you’re making a substitution, you’ve got to push someone else to another position to accommodate someone else coming on.”

That is essentially the crux of Joe Schmidt’s thought process when selecting eight players to cover 15 in his starting line-up.

It’s a convincing argument, and any coach will agree that one change is by some distance more preferable to multiple positional switches mid-game.

In the above quote, Schmidt is referring specifically to Stuart McCloskey, the robust Ulster centre who impressed many on his international debut in Twickenham. Just not enough to keep him in the matchday squad.

Fergus McFadden and Ian Madigan Fergus McFadden and Ian Madigan are Schmidt's preferred replacement backs this weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

On top of his Ulster team-mate Jared Payne’s expertise, it seems McCloskey’s make-up as a one-position specialist has worked against him.

“We want to keep investing in Stuart, for sure,” says Schmidt.

“With the bench we try to have as little disruption as possible when someone comes on as a replacement, so to have people who are slightly versatile on the bench is an advantage.

“Stu has only played and trained with us at 12, so that would mean we would have to facilitate shifting somebody else elsewhere.”

Stuart McCloskey Fenced off: Stu McCloskey at Ireland training today. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

It’s the same logic that has kept McCloskey’s regular provider Paddy Jackson from amassing more than his 13 caps in three years. Though Schmidt has other considerations including the goal-kicking ratio of the two Leinster out-halves and Jackson’s injury absence on one of the rare occasions when experimentation was relatively risk-free.

“Paddy spent a lot of time in the squad two years ago. Injuries scuppered his opportunity when he would have definitely got chances in Argentina (2014 summer tour). Since then, one of the things is: Johnny Sexton hasn’t missed a kick at goal, Ian Madigan has a phenomenal strike-rate.

“That’s one of the aspects. Another one is Ian’s versatility as opposed to Paddy who is mostly a 10.

Simon Zebo and Paddy Jackson Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“He’s a super young player and I’ve a lot of time for Paddy. He will grow into a player who will accumulate a number of caps.

“If Johnny is starting, Ian Madigan offers us the versatility: if we need to put someone in at 12, you can potentially put Ian there. If you need to put someone at 15 you can potentially put Ian there.

“Obviously with the guys we’ve got playing in the midfield, either of them can drop to 15 so you can get flexible a little bit there. But to have guys like Paddy or Stu, who are one-position players mostly, it does limit the flexibility of how and when you make your changes.”

It’s a different story among the front row replacements where players can afford to be one-position specialists even in a Schmidt squad.

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This week, Sean Cronin returns to the fold having been shelved since the last home Test on the Championship’s opening weekend. In the case of Strauss v Cronin, the Kiwi says it’s important to keep both men up to speed as Rory Best’s back-up.

“A little bit (dependent on opposition) a little bit of trying to keep them both involved.

Richardt Strauss and Sean Cronin File photo of Strauss and Cronin in training back in 2014. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“They both offer really good things: Richardt is very strong over the ball. He, like Rory, puts a lot of pressure on opposition ball. Sean gives us a running option, he has acceleration that most backs would like to have and he gives us a bit of a threat as a running player. He also gives us great line-speed defensively and he can be quite combative with that line speed.

They’re actually quite different throwers. One’s a flat thrower, one’s more of an arc thrower. There are differences between them and we mix and match a bit. But to be honest, it’s trying to keep them both fully-charged and fully-involved in the environment.”

We can think of plenty of backs and forwards who would like the opportunity to stay fully-charged and involved in that same environment.

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Sean Farrell

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