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'You're never going to get all the decisions right': Schmidt trusting tested combinations

The head coach explained some of his key selection calls for Sunday’s crunch clash against Wales.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

ON THE OPENING weekend of a Six Nations, particularly one directly after a World Cup, team selections are subjected to a greater level of scrutiny.

The XV to start the tournament sets the tone, not only for the six weeks ahead, but for the year and probably for the three years beyond that right up until the next World Cup.

For Joe Schmidt, any planned line-up he might have allowed form in the back of his mind last November was torn up with a ninth and 10th name added to Ireland’s injury list this week.

As stellar names like Sean O’Brien, Rob Kearney, Iain Henderson, Cian Healy and Peter O’Mahony dropped out of the picture, the back-to-back Championship-winning coach was keen to stick with combinations of players rather than individual stand-outs.

With Kearney missing training this week, it may have been a sensible suggestion to allow Jared Payne to slot in to fullback, a position he plays regularly for his province. Instead, the draw of a midfield duo who had already played together won out.

“We looked hard at Stu (McCloskey) and Luke (Marshall), and Stu and Jared (Payne), because they had a little bit of time together,” Schmidt said at Carton House today, omitting a powerful McCloskey-Henshaw pairing from his considerations.

Schmidt would give similar responses to queries about the make-up of his back three, back row and second row. Familiarity breeds contentment in the Ireland coach.

“One of the things about picking certain combinations is that they know each other and talk in their own groups.

Jamie Heaslip and Joe Schmidt Schmidt and Heaslip addressing the media in Carton House today. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I don’t think, collectively, everyone talks all the time. But the midfield, they are talking about how they are going to shut the (opposition) down. At the same time, the back three are constantly communicating. Simon Zebo and Keith Earls know each other quite well and (Andrew) Trimble is very experienced. It is the same with our second row, in that they know each other well.

“Jamie (Heaslip) has had a bit of a role in gelling the back row together as that is quite different…”

He adds: “In trying to make those decisions, I’m not sure we get them right. In fact I know you’re never going to get all the decisions right. Because there are so many variables and human factors, it’s impossible to get everyone right.

What we try to do is take as balanced approach as we can, try to factor in the variables and come up with what we think is the combination, and the individual, we need.”

“We didn’t come in with any intentions. We looked at how they (the players) trained and slotted in.

“We trained last Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and we’ve had three sessions this week. So it’s not like we’ve got a wealth of opportunity to measure players against each other and particularly not a wealth of time to build a combination.”

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Sean Farrell

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