JOE SCHMIDT SAYS the search for Brian O’Driscoll’s successor began as soon as he took over as Ireland’s head coach. The New Zealander, today, named four players that could possibly fill the breach now that O’Driscoll has retired from international.
“[The search] started when I got the job and he and I sat down,” said Schmidt. “There were pretty clear parameters about how long he would be available. We’ve certainly been watching players. I think Robbie Henshaw and Darren Cave profited from the time they spent [in camp].”
Schmidt revealed Henshaw was on the verge of being ‘whistled in’ for almost every one of Ireland’s Six Nations matches as the regulars’ fitness levels were stretched to their limits. The Kiwi did not forget the unfortunate, injured Luke Fitzgerald who, he felt, did a fine job as O’Driscoll’s outside centre replacement for the final 25 minutes of last November’s match against New Zealand.
“We’ve been doing that for the last nine months really, because we knew this day was coming,” Schmidt added.
Schmidt did not mention Jared Payne immediately but was happy to chat about his fellow Kiwi, who will become Irish qualified in time for the Autumn internationals, when his credentials were brought up. “Jared would definitely be another guy in the frame. He’s a class player, an experienced player and he has a natural intuition on the field.
He’s a very good decision-maker on-field, he tends to be able to avoid the first tackle or beat the first tackle. He’s a little bit flexible in where he plays on the field, he’s played on the edge [wing] or at full-back. He’s obviously played a lot of full-back as Ulster tend to use Cave and Luke Marshall in the midfield.”
The former Leinster coach remarked that both he and assistant coach Les Kiss were trying to bleed O’Driscoll dry for attacking and defensive tips over the past six months. “Having [Brian] in camp, sitting down with Robbie and Darren, talking through things as we’ve done them,” he said. “So we’ve tried to bleed as much as we can out of him.”
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
Schmidt continued, “We’d be delighted if Brian stayed reasonably close to the group, because of the character he is as well as the on-field intelligence he brings to the group. I guess that depends a little on Sadie and Amy [O'Driscoll's daughter and wife] and other commitments he might have beyond the end of the season.
“I know right now his full focus will probably just be recuperating for a couple of weeks, then targeting some massive games coming up for his province.”
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