JOE SCHMIDT ADMITS he was hoping to use more than 18 players as starters across the Six Nations campaign. The New Zealander is eager to broaden his squad but has pointed out that Ireland have just 10 Test matches to prepare for the 2015 World Cup.
Schmidt, speaking at a post-Six Nations media briefing at Lansdowne Road this morning, says his immediate goal will be reviewing a championship winning Six Nations campaign. He is, however, keen to reward a wider group of Irish players that were not on the pitch in Paris as a five-year wait for silverware was consigned to history.
On a Late Late Show appearance before the tournament began, Schmidt targeted a top two finish in the Six Nations and a place in the last four of the next World Cup. English players, such as Chris Robshaw and Danny Care, have spoken about winning the World Cup but Schmidt insisted success will not let his focus waiver.
“I’m a lot more short-term focused than that,” he said. “For me, the very short term is about reviewing and seeing what did go well for us. What did work well for us was the wider squad — the training atmosphere and the environment in camp was fantastic. Outside the starting 15, and the wider group of subs that came off the bench and made an impact, all those things were outstanding.
“The wider group, again, contributed massively. There’s a number of them that you’d mention but I’d probably leave someone out. Someone I would mention is Donnacha Ryan who came in for the last two weeks. He had one full game of rugby but took over running the opposition line-out preparation and was phenomenally good at it.”
Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
Ireland will tour Argentina this summer for a two Test series. While established players such as Jonathan Sexton, Cian Healy and Gordon D’Arcy may be rested, Schmidt admitted he is struggling with the concept of leaving good players at home with a World Cup so close on the horizon.
He said, “You can calculate it that way [resting players] or you can calculate it that there are 10 Test matches in the lead-up to the World Cup. One of the things I found was I anticipated that we would have used, through attrition more than 18 starting players or 28, 29 players in total.
You push that forward for the next 10 Test matches, if you do start leaving players out, maybe you compromise that continuity you are starting to build.”
Schmidt added, “We do have teams that are well placed in the Heineken Cup and the Pro12 and we could have a number of players playing a lot of games at the end of the season and we may be better placed giving those guys a rest.
“There are guys who haven’t played a lot of rugby lately and are fresh — Stephen Ferris, Donnacha Ryan, Tommy Bowe, to name a few — that are just back. There will be some nice competition for places, hopefully, as well.”