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Schmidt looks towards 'fully-loaded' Wales with tough selection calls to make

Ireland’s head coach is happy with where his squad is after two World Cup warm-ups.

TWO GAMES, TWO wins, one major injury, some strong individual performances and a handful of disappointing individual displays too.

It’s been a busy fortnight for Joe Schmidt’s Ireland but the head coach is content as they look towards a week that has no Test match waiting at the end of it.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The World Cup prep continues, but their next fixture on the pitch sees them welcome Wales to Dublin on Saturday 29 August.

A facile win over the Welsh in Cardiff was followed up with yesterday’s scrappy victory over Vern Cotter’s Scotland, so would Schmidt himself rate these last two weeks as positive for Ireland?

“I would,” said Schmidt at the Aviva Stadium yesterday evening. “29 different players have had a start, two new caps. To do that and get a couple of wins is great for the confidence in the group.

“At the same time, I think anyone watching and we ourselves know that there’s plenty of work-ons. We got through today unscathed, though there’s probably still a small lingering disappointment that Tommy O’Donnell got ruled out last week but we’re hopeful that that’s the only one that is going to be affecting us with the tough decisions coming up for selection.

I think in two weeks’ time it’s going to be another step up and I would suspect that Wales will come fully loaded, fully freshened.

“I know that they’ve finished their block of real physical graft and that they’ll be honing their skills and their timing and I think we’ll see a very different Wales outfit. That’ll be a really good challenge for us.”

With Warren Gatland set to bring his first-choice side to Dublin for that next fixture, it’s likely that Ireland too will be closer to full strength as so-far-unused players like Conor Murray, Robbie Henshaw, Peter O’Mahony and Rob Kearney get starts.

Joe Schmidt with Jared Payne Jared Payne and Schmidt before the Scotland game. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Indeed, that game is likely to give us a more rounded view of Schmidt’s thinking in regards to his final 31-man squad for the World Cup, which must be named by the 31 August deadline.

Performances against Wales and Scotland in the past fortnight will go into the tougher selection decisions, as will performances on the training ground over the last seven weeks.

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“We’ll try to be as thorough as we can be in looking at it, trying to make sure that any of the decisions we make are based upon those performances, along with the training performance, which is pretty important for us,” said Schmidt.

We spend a lot more time training than we do in the very small windows of match performance. They are very much the obvious test and we need people who under the pressure of those testing positions can deliver for us.

“There were signs of guys who did and guys who are still working their way towards that today. I wouldn’t base anything on watching it once. All five coaches will look back over it and try to put our heads together about the quality of the individual performances.”

Hints from Schmidt as to the final make-up of his squad have been few and far between – although forecasting it is not impossible – and the Kiwi claims to be unsure even about the number of players he needs to bring in each position.

“To be honest, we haven’t put any rigidity around those decisions,” said Schmidt. “I think we’re reasonably open minded apart from that we think we’ll have a 17/14 (forwards/backs) split. How we split that up will be defined by who fits where. Certainly in the backs we’re reasonably flexible about who might fit where.”

Blair Cowan and Ross Ford tackle Isaac Boss Boss got the nine shirt against the Scots. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Most coaches will bring three specialist scrum-halves to the World Cup, but again Schmidt says Ireland haven’t made up their minds in that regard.

Kieran Marmion was used off the bench against Wales before returning to Connacht for Friday night’s friendly with Castres, while Isaac Boss looked rusty in victory against the Scots.

“I haven’t really done it before but I think we’ve got four scrum-halves in the squad who have done really well,” said Schmidt. “I thought Kieran Marmion came on last week and did really well.

He played well in the second half against Castres, I thought Isaac Boss played well today, Eoin Reddan last week. Conor Murray is likely to get a hit-out against Wales and that will allow us to make a decision. If you’re trying to balance numbers, that’s something we’ll cross the bridge when we come to it.”

We may speculate as to which players have moved up and down the various pecking orders, but Schmidt is simply focused on ensuring that even those who aren’t in the eventual 31-man group are still giving everything to the Ireland squad right now.

“We’re trying to prepare the players we have as well as we can so they have an opportunity to be in that 31 at the end of it,” said Schmidt. “We’ve played the bulk of the squad and that’s given us an indication of where we want to go.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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