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Dublin: 16 °C Friday 19 September, 2014

Schmidt may be courting disaster by picking an under-strength Irish XV

We debate the merits of selecting an Irish teams with and without their heavy-hitters.

Joe Schmidt's Ireland will face three higher ranked teams this month.
Joe Schmidt's Ireland will face three higher ranked teams this month.
Image: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

IRELAND COACH JOE SCHMIDT will, this afternoon, name his Ireland team to take on Samoa at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.

The Kiwi’s first game in charge will see Ireland face a Manu Samoa outfit packed with Top 14 and Super Rugby stars and ranked once place higher [seventh] than their hosts. Schmidt has described this weekend’s match as the first of ‘three cup finals’ and has stated his desire to pick the strongest teams possible.

However, with Australia [fourth] and New Zealand [first] also coming to town, there must be a temptation to hold a few of Ireland’s established stars in reserve. We select the two teams Schmidt could field against the Samoans and argue the merits of both.

Murray Kinsella — Pick the best XV

R Kearney; T Bowe, B O’Driscoll, L Marshall, F McFadden; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross; P O’Connell (c), D Tuohy; P O’Mahony, S O’Brien, J Heaslip.

Underestimating the Samoan challenge on Saturday would be disastrous for Ireland. Stephen Betham’s side are big, aggressive and powerful. They are here with the belief that they will win and by fielding anything less than a full-strength team, Joe Schmidt is asking for defeat in his first game in charge.

Beyond the physical and mental strengths the Samoans have always possessed, they have now added structure and shape in both defence and attack. This is a good team and Ireland cannot afford to risk a developmental XV on Saturday. The power of Sean O’Brien, Cian Healy and Rory Best cannot be omitted.

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Sean O’Brien’s power will be needed against Samoa. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland.

Paul O’Connell as captain would ensure that Ireland would not be lacking for leadership when the Samoan onslaught begins, while Brian O’Driscoll’s defensive excellence would be useful too. At scrum-half, Conor Murray’s size and composure would be important. Yes, the November tests should partly be about moving a squad forward and testing new options, but right now Ireland don’t have that luxury.

Schmidt will be under pressure to win games from the off and no coach wants to get their reign underway in defeat. Even if new players aren’t given huge amounts of exposure this month, Ireland can develop as a team by embracing the style of play and coaching that Schmidt brings to the table. Underestimating Samoa by fielding a weakened XV would be foolish.

Patrick McCarry — Hold big players in reserve

R Henshaw; T Bowe, B O’Driscoll, L Marshall, F McFadden; J Sexton, I Boss; J McGrath, S Cronin, M Ross;  D Toner, M McCarthy; K McLaughlin, C Henry, P O’Mahony (c).

Schmidt could easily select this side an expect them to hold their own against the Samoans. It contains nine Leinster starters, including the tight five, that will know exactly what keeps their coach happy. Senior stars such as O’Driscoll, Bowe, Sexton, Ross and O’Mahony are retained with a nod to youth that should match the visiting side for attacking verve.

Isaac Boss revels in physical battles and is the smartest box-kicker of the three scrumhalves — ideal for a Samoan side that are no great shakes when it comes to airborne duels. Kevin McLaughlin, Chris Henry and O’Mahony provide the backline grit and should starve Samoa of the quick ball they thrive on.

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Peter O’Mahony on the charge in training at Carton House. INPHO/Billy Stickland

In the backline, Marshall gets the chance to continue the midfield partnership with O’Driscoll that shimmered briefly earlier this year. Throwing in Robbie Henshaw from the start at fullback is the big punt but one that should energise the home crowd. The Connacht player is highly rated by the Irish coaching ticket and, word from the camp has it, fearless in training.

Schmidt could name a bench containing the likes of Cian Healy, Paul O’Connell, Sean O’Brien and Rob Kearney to punch second-half holes. O’Mahony is rewarded for leading Ireland over the summer by retaining the captaincy before handing over the responsibility to a senior colleague for the tough tests ahead.

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