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Dublin: -1°C Thursday 6 May 2021

Schmidt 'utterly confident' Ireland have the energy to end long season with series win

The Kiwi says his players are always motivated and won’t need reminding before Saturday’s deciding third Test.

Rory Keane reports from Port Elizabeth

JOE SCHMIDT HAS backed Connacht stars Tiernan O’Halloran and Matt Healy to make a big impression against South Africa in the forthcoming series decider at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

The pair initially missed out on selection for the three-Test tour with injuries to the Kearney brothers and Luke Fitzgerald leading to late call-ups.

Now, with Jared Payne ruled out with a calf injury, O’Halloran has been handed his first Test start at full-back with in-form winger Healy in line for a potential international debut from the bench.

“Look, there’s a few that were rested last weekend and came back in,” said Schmidt, speaking at Ireland’s team base in Port Elizabeth this afternoon.

Matt Healy Matt Healy will hope the replacement backs are unleashed much earlier than in Johannesburg. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“One of the things that we wanted to do was to involve as many players as possible on tour. It means that everybody will have been in a matchday 23 and I think that’s exciting for the players that have come away. We have 32 players, obviously with Robbie Henshaw heading back we have 31 still available to us.

“Jared Payne has still got a bit of tightness in his calf. We’re just not prepared to risk further injury if we put him out there. So, at the same time, it’s a great opportunity for Tiernan O’Halloran and for Matt Healy to come in on the bench.

You couldn’t get a more exciting opportunity than being over here in a Test decider to step up and be involved in your first start or you first opportunity off the bench.”

O’Halloran’s promotion to the starting line-up is one of seven changes (one positional) to the side that went down 32-26 at Ellis Park last weekend.

Luke Marshall, Keith Earls, Mike Ross, CJ Stander and Jordi Murphy all return having started the thrilling 26-26 victory at Newlands in the opening Test. Iain Henderson shifting back to the second row to accommodate Stander’s return completes the changes.

As Ireland gear up for their 17th Test of a marathon campaign, Schmidt stressed that this squad has one more big performance left in them.

“I’m utterly confident that they’ll make me and themselves proud,” said the Kiwl.

Joe Schmidt addresses the backs Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“They’ll make sure that Ireland feel proud of them because that’s the way they commit to going about their work. And I’ve no doubt that they’ll be no different than it has been in the last two Tests.

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“Yes, it’s been a long season, people are tired and that’s going to maybe detract from people being at the their optimum but, at the same time, I don’t think too many people will detect that because what they don’t have in fresh reserves of energy, they’ll make up for in the full commitment they make to doing the job that they do.”

Eoin Reddan is set to play his final game of rugby against the Boks, if Schmidt sends the veteran scrum-half into the action late on from the bench.

The 35-year-old announced his retirement from the game earlier today after a stellar career with Munster, Connacht, Wasps and Leinster which included three Heineken Cups triumphs, three World Cup campaigns and a brace of Six Nations titles in 2014 and 2015.

Eoin Reddan with the kids Reddan on a visit to a charity yesterday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Having worked with Reddan for years at Leinster and Ireland, Schmidt paid tribute to the retiring Limerick man:

“I’ve really enjoyed working with Eoin for the last six years, he’s been a part of the leadership group through those six years either in Leinster or in the Irish set-up, the brings a real intelligence to the game and a real competitive edge as well.

“I think his ability to get the basics there right have allowed him to be incredibly efficient as a scrum-half and that’s what you want when you’re in a pivotal position like that and his intelligence around the game, his ability to be driving the forwards, respected by the forwards has been really beneficial.

It’s something that the teams around him have benefited from for the six years that I’ve been involved with him and obviously prior to that, where he had real success with Wasps and with Ireland before I was involved.”

It all comes down to this Saturday and a winner takes all clash with a shot at history within this Ireland squad’s grasp. Following the dramatic encounters in Cape Town and Johannesburg, you get the feeling there is one twist left in this fascination saga.

“To be honest I wouldn’t be a big pre-match speaker,” added Schmidt.

“I don’t try to motivate players hugely. I think players motivate themselves. They’re incredibly proud of the jersey they wear, the country they represent and the collective they are so they’re going to get out and work for each other anyway. It’s not really something that can be externally infused.

“Commitment, hunger and motivation to do the job really comes from within and we’ve got a great core of players. Keith [Earls] is one of our guys who leads that. We just have an expectation because they have an expectation of each other that they will be fully committed and they will work hard.”

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