# Moving Pieces
Schmidt considering Henshaw among Ireland's fullback options
The injury to Rob Kearney leaves Ireland with a big decision to make at 15.

JOE SCHMIDT SAYS he will consider Robbie Henshaw at fullback after his  was hit by injury withdrawals for the three-Test tour of South Africa.

Rob Kearney, who was picked as the only specialist fullback in Schmidt’s initial 32-man squad, will miss the tour after suffering a hamstring strain during Ireland training yesterday.

Robbie Henshaw Dan Sheridan / INPHO Henshaw made his Ireland debut at fullback against the US in 2013. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

It’s the latest in a string of hamstring and back issues for the 30-year-old, who will now focus on recovering full fitness in time for the start of the 2016/17 season.

Connacht’s in-form Tiernan O’Halloran has been called up to replace Kearney in the Ireland squad – with Matt Healy and Craig Gilroy added in place of the injured Dave Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald.

25-year-old O’Halloran is uncapped at Test level and it would be something of a surprise to see the former Galway minor footballer pitched in from the start for the first clash with the Boks in Cape Town on 11 June.

Though always used as an outside centre by Ireland, Jared Payne has featured impressively at fullback for Ulster this season and would have been viewed as a possibility to start at 15 against South Africa.

When that was put to Schmidt this afternoon he  highlighted Henshaw’s ability to shift to fullback, while stressing the importance of Payne in the 13 channel in Ireland’s defence.

“We only really have one specialist full-back selected anyway so Jared was one of the options along with Robbie.

“Robbie has been playing some good rugby at full-back as well and that would still allow us to use Jared to control our edge defence. Some of those decisions we will make through training, seeing who is most comfortable in either position.

Schmidt also pointed out that O’Halloran’s form in Connacht’s run to the Guinness Pro12 title makes him a genuine contender for Ireland’s 15 shirt.

Tiernan O'Halloran beats Rob Kearney to score a try Dan Sheridan / INPHO O'Halloran was outstanding last weekend. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“And then we’ve got Tiernan, who really spiked at the end of the season. His confidence is high, he is in good form and he comes into the equation as well.”

With Luke Fitzgerald and Dave Kearney having been ruled out, Andrew Trimble and Keith Earls will be the favourites to start in the wing positions for Ireland, while Conor Murray and Paddy Jackson look set to be the first-choice halfbacks.

If Henshaw was to move to fullback, it would leave Ulster pair Stuart Olding and Luke Marshall vying for the 12 shirt. That pair of midfielders offer different strengths, with Marshall having served as the 24th man for Ireland throughout the Six Nations this year.

Olding, however, is a clever distributor and his footwork is exceptional . The 23-year-old has also bulked up in the past two seasons, much of which have been injury disrupted.

Schmidt faced criticism for his initial exclusion of Connacht flyers Healy and O’Halloran, but they will now be part of the travelling party.

The Ireland head coach said he had paid little attention to that criticism but agreed that it is exciting to see if the new faces can step up in the Test rugby environment.

“I’m not sure about the criticism because it is not at the forefront of my mind,” said Schmidt.

“If I’m distracted by that then journalists become selectors. I probably challenge them to do as much work looking at the minutiae of what a player delivers on a pitch.

Joe Schmidt Dan Sheridan / INPHO Schmidt spoke at the Aviva Stadium this afternoon. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“Those players have done really well and those players are continuing to build. But in the test arena, they are going to have to continue to build further because it is a whole different level and that is going to be a real challenge for those players but that is exciting. They will demonstrate that, they will let you know if they’re ready.”

Despite the late injury blows for Ireland that were confirmed today – key man Johnny Sexton chief among them – Schmidt has belief that his side can push towards making history with a first-ever win i.

“Look, I think for us if we can stay competitive we’re always a chance,” said Schmidt. “If we can stay in the game for as long as possible I think that can potentially unsettle them. The pressure does fall on them a little bit – they’re at home, they’ve never lost to Ireland at home.

“I know that their motivation is going to be very, very high. When a new coach comes in some of the established players are going to want to demonstrate that they should have been there and deserve the right to remain there.

“There’s going to be new players and the selection that Allister Coetzee has made is a real mix with some fantastic experience and, at the same time, some really exciting new players.

“I think whatever we try to do will be in the context of the motivation they have and what they try to put together. Hopefully, if we can stay in contact with them for long enough in a game I think the players we have will potentially find a way.”

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‘We have to move on’ – Schmidt backs Jackson to fill Sexton’s shoes

Johnny Sexton and Kearney brothers ruled out of South Africa tour

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