Joe Schmidt looks to familiar faces for last Six Nations date in Dublin

Joe Schmidt looks to familiar faces for last Six Nations date in Dublin
Head coach Joe Schmidt, right, and Peter O'Mahony during an Ireland Rugby press conference today. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Joe Schmidt will look to the tried and trusted as he fronts up for his final Six Nations game in charge of Ireland in Dublin. Thirteen of those starting filled the same shirts in beating the All Blacks last November.

Head coach since 2013, the Kiwi has come out on top in twelve of the 14 Six Nations games played under his watch at the Aviva Stadium for a win ratio of just over 89%, but his last experience there was the comprehensive loss to England in February.

“I briefly mentioned it to my wife yesterday when I called in at home and it will be hard to say goodbye to it,” said Schmidt whose time in charge ends after the World Cup “We've had some great days and occasions in the Aviva and it would be great if this was another. Players play under those circumstances all the time.

 Joe Schmidt. Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Joe Schmidt. Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

“You never know when your next cap is coming and coaches are probably like that as well. You could be chopped at any time. It's about the players this week. They take control and put the performance together. We are going to move on. These are things you will miss for sure.”

Schmidt's XV for France is more or less as expected with those front-liners rested for Rome recalled. That means Cian Healy, Rory Best and James Ryan all step in after being given the week off in Italy when the side stuttered to a bonus-point win.

The introduction alongside them of Iain Henderson, Josh van der Flier and CJ Stander makes for six new faces in the pack. Van der Flier's start means no room for Sean O'Brien who loses out on the matchday 23 to Jack Conan.

Garry Ringrose for Chris Farrell is the only change to the back line.

The bench had been the source of most uncertainty. As it is, John Ryan will cover for Tadhg Furlong at tighthead prop. Ultan Dillane beats Tadhg Beirne to back up the second row and Jack Carty has held off Ross Byrne's claims to understudy Jonathan Sexton.

It was about giving a bit more opportunity to players,” said the coach. “It's great to have CJ and other guys who are back. Jack Conan was initially due to start against Scotland so we wanted to give him an opportunity to get his foot back in the door off the bench.

Jack Conan, left, and Ross Byrne during Ireland Rugby squad training today. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Jack Conan, left, and Ross Byrne during Ireland Rugby squad training today. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

“And we wanted to spread the opportunities again at hooker and prop. Second row, as happy with Tadhg as we have been, he is a little bit sore this week as he's still coming back after injury and Ultan played well against Italy.

“His tackle count was very high against Italy and the amount of moments he was involved in was really good. We wanted to reward that performance. We have had some others in the squad because we're trying to give opportunities. Ross has slotted back in and Rob Herring and Kieran Marion.

They all come into the reckoning potentially (against Wales) next week.

Ireland's form has been under the spotlight in this tournament with the loss to England followed by an up-and-down victory away to Scotland and a stuttering win in Rome, albeit one that still delivered a winning bonus point.

“There was certainly a frustration for everyone, even coming in at half-time in Italy. The way they fought through wasn't perfect and we were disappointed with the performance but collectively we can't afford to be held back by what happened and deliver what will happen next.

“They picked themselves up really well from that and people probably underestimate how tough it is in Rome and the pressure from Italy. Wales didn't get a big score there either and then turned it around with a big game against England.”

Everyone and anyone has had their say on Ireland's campaign thus far. New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen delivered his two cents worth earlier this week when speaking about how difficult Ireland have found it being the hunted rather than the hunted.

Hansen described last November's meeting of Ireland and New Zealand in Dublin as one that would decide the best team in the world and, with the hosts winning, there is no doubt but that they have played with a target on their backs.

“You don't have to look too far back to see that the All Blacks are the only team that stay consistently at the top,” said Schmidt. “England won a Six Nations Grand Slam. They get there the next year and they are fifth. How does that happen with most of the same personnel the same?

“I was speaking to Franck Azema in Clermont: they were champions one year and tenth the next. How does that happen? It's not apathy or overconfidence. I'm not sure how you might explain it. We are a real forward-thinking group so last year is certainly last year.

It doesn't help you win anything this year. If anything, Steve is suggesting it hinders you. It certainly puts a target on you.

Ireland (v France): R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, T Furlong; Henderson, James Ryan; P O'Mahony, J van der Flier, CJ Stander.

Replacements: N Scannell, D Kilcoyne, John Ryan, U Dillane, J Conan, J Cooney, J Carty, J Larmour.

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