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Joe Schmidt rejects notion he is picking Ireland players on reputation

The Kiwi explained that implementing a Connacht-esque game plan would be difficult.

JOE SCHMIDT REJECTED the notion that he is picking players for Ireland based on reputation but did say that Test form in the past is among his selection criteria.

Connacht’s sensational Pro12 final win over Leinster has led to renewed question marks around the omission of their try-scoring back-three stars Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun and Matt Healy for Ireland’s tour to South Africa.

Healy is now set to come into the Ireland group as a replacement for the injured Luke Fitzgerald, but criticism from Irish supporters has once again labelled Schmidt as conservative in his selection.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt says he is picking players based on performance. Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

In reference to the Connacht men missing out on Ireland call-ups in favour of players he has worked with closely before, Schmidt alluded to the high competition for back-three places.

“I don’t think the word reputation is applicable,” said Schmidt yesterday, “I think performance is. A number of the guys [selected] have performed well at Test level.

“Some of those guys, Tiernan say, has had an in-and-out season with injury. He’s only just got back and really started to get a playing rhythm. I had a discussion with him and I think he did exceptionally well on Saturday.

“Niyi, this time two years ago was playing [Division] 1B for Trinity and what Pat’s done to get those guys together and make them as competitive as they are speaks in unbelievable volumes for what he’s capable of doing with that team and what those players have done to make themselves as competitive as they are.

“I do think that we will see some of those guys start to emerge. I think it’s one of the tough positions to make, with the likes of Keith Earls there. I thought Andrew Trimble had a really good season. He was carrying a bit of an injury when he played in the semi-final.

“I knew that, so I kind of factored that in. I thought Luke was exceptional in that game when he came back.

“I think it’s hard when it’s a very competitive position. I thought one of the Leinster players who did have a good game at the weekend was still Dave Kearney.

“He did some very good stuff. It’s a very competitive position for us. If they were second-rows they’d probably have a better chance but it is one of those positions that it is tougher to make it.”

Leinster fullback Rob Kearney had another unimpressive outing in the Pro12 final and has struggled this season with injuries.

Tiernan O'Halloran beats Rob Kearney to score a try Tiernan O'Halloran was impressive for Connacht last weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Given that Schmidt had again underlined that certain potential tourists had been left out of the South Africa trip in order to recuperate and benefit from rest, the selection of the 30-year-old is a curious one.

Stuart McCloskey was confirmed as one of the players who “could do with a full summer and come back next season having learned a few lessons,” while Schmidt also stated that Tommy O’Donnell’s unavailability for the third Test – he is due to get married – counted against him.

“He’s had a lot of breaks,” said Schmidt when asked if Kearney would have benefited from a rest. “I spoke to Rob, he’s incredibly keen to play. He needs to play more than he needs a break.

“He hasn’t played that often whereas there are some guys for whom it’s been a pretty attritional season. I thought when Rob came back from injury against Edinburgh he was really good, and he was good the following week. Again, he picked up a knock.”

Schmidt pointed out that there was nothing Kearney could have done for Connacht’s first try in the Pro12 final, scored by O’Halloran, and stressed that the Leinster fullback has delivered in Test rugby before.

“It was a tough day for Rob but I guess I’ve also seen Rob last time we played South Africa [in the November 2014 win in Dublin] and I thought he was superb.

“When the really big occasions have come up Rob has tended to play really well for us. It will be a bit of a litmus test for him and he knows that guys like Tiernan are snapping at his heels.

“He’ll put that pressure on himself and, hopefully, that will get the best out of him.”

Strangely, Connacht’s Pro12 success has also seen Schmidt come in for further criticism based around the playing style Ireland employ.

Joe Schmidt and Andy Farrell Joe Schmidt and Andy Farrell spoke at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Many rugby fans who have been enraptured by Connacht’s ambitious approach under Lam have been asking why Ireland cannot play in the same manner.

Schmidt was posed the question yesterday and pointed to the limited time he has with players on the training ground, while also defending Ireland’s style as he alluded to England coach Eddie Jones’ remarks during the Six Nations.

“I think if you compared some of the things from the Six Nations, if you compared some of the footage, you’ll see that the shape is not that different,” said Schmidt.

“I do think in the Test arena it is another level up and it doesn’t always mean that you can play the way that you’d like to play. I think for the third consecutive year we made more passes in the Six Nations than any other team.

“I know that’s not a stat that other coaches are telling you about; they may say that we kick the ball a lot and they may make up stats but we prefer to look at the ones that we do genuinely generate and look at what we are trying to deliver.

“We’re trying to get better at all of those things on a regular basis. One of the things is that in 10 days it’s quite hard to suddenly get a season’s worth of progression.

“It’s probably one of my greatest frustrations having come from a provincial or club background into international rugby – you are very, very contained in how much time you have with the player, particularly if you want the player to demonstrate a skill that they don’t already have on arrival.

“It’s very hard to suddenly generate that in 10 days because it takes a lot of repetition and you just don’t have time for that.

“You’ve got to cut your cloth a little bit and we will do that, try to come up with what best suits Rory [Best] and the lads in preparation for South Africa and then try to deliver the best we can in what we’ve acknowledged will be a cauldron.”

Originally published: 1am

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Murray Kinsella

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