The Munster flyer has scored three tries in two games against Cardiff and Zebre since regaining full fitness and, though both opponents were far from stellar, they served as reminders of the player’s abilities, especially given Tommy Bowe and Luke Fitzgerald’s continued inactivity.
Instead, Schmidt has gone for Fergus McFadden again to serve as cover for Andrew Trimble and Dave Kearney, both of whom have been in superb form in the opening games.
“It’s a very competitive area,” said Ireland team manager Mick Kearney. “Dave Kearney and Andrew Trimble have played very well there in the two games to date, Fergus McFadden is in the squad as a wing as well and if all the players were fit it is the most competitive area in the Irish system.
“So, really it’s a form selection. Joe is quite happy with the form of Dave and Andrew, Fergus has come off the bench and played well for the last two games. It’s purely a form selection.”
Schmidt has been consistent in his selections with the only significant changes this time seeing Dave Kilcoyne called up for the week and Donnacha Ryan and Eoin Reddan returning to the squad after their recent injury layoffs – the latter in place of the injured Dan Tuohy.
In all, 15 of the 33-man squad took part in RaboDirect action last weekend but Zebo’s absence prompted the question as to whether the lower standard of fare in the Rabo during the Six Nations was hampering the chances of those looking to force a way in.
“I don’t think that’s true,” said Kearney. “Joe was at the Leinster game against Dragons on Friday night and he would have been looking at a number of players. The bench all got some minutes at the weekend so we’ll be looking at that.
“Joe is a rugby fanatic. He would watch rugby Friday, Saturday and Sunday and I don’t think the quality of opposition or the game would determine his selection. The squad of the last three or four weeks has been pretty consistent.”
Unlike last year, Ireland have been remarkably lucky in terms of injuries and the casualty list was again light yesterday.
Isaac Boss is said to be progressing well through return to play protocols despite suffering a concussion as well as neck and shoulder injuries in Leinster’s defeat of Dragons last Friday and is expected to available for selection come the weekend, if required.
Darren Cave is suffering from lower abdominal soreness this week and has therefore missed out while Bowe and Fitzgerald – both suffering with the same complaint – are hoping to feature for Ulster and Leinster this week.
That aside, Jonathan Sexton came through 25 minutes for Racing against Bayonne while Robin Copeland has been omitted due to IRB rules that would have seen him return to Cardiff today anyway had he not made the match-day squad.