Injury and illness on the eve of the two-Test series with the Pumas has denied head coach Schmidt the services of Munster back Keith Earls and Leinster tighthead prop Martin Moore, while the IRFU yesterday announced forwards coach John Plumtree will be stepping down from the position after just a year for family reasons.
Earls was ruled out due to a bout of gastroeneritis, while Moore, a second-half substitute in Leinster’s RaboDirect Pro12 final win over Glasgow on Saturday, has a fractured toe. Leinster’s Noel Reid replaces the back and Connacht’s Rodney Ah You checks in for the vacant prop vacancy.
Earls’ illness is a particular blow for player and national coach alike. The Munster star has yet to win a cap under Schmidt, having missed the November Tests and Six Nations due to injury, while the boss has been further frustrated in his bid to assess his options at outside centre following the retirement of Brian O’Driscoll, just 16 months out from the 2015 World Cup. Robbie Henshaw was forced to withdraw from the tour last week due to a wrist problem and with Earls now set to be absent in Argentina, Reid is the next in line to stake his claim, with the number of uncapped players in the 29-man party now up to six.
The last thing Schmidt will have wanted on his to-do list is begin a search for a new forwards coach, particularly as fellow New Zealander Plumtree was proving so popular and effective in the role since joining the coaching team last September, the Irish lineout and maul in particular seeing a sharp improvement in the past season.
Plumtree, though, will step down and return to New Zealand after the tour having been linked with a return to Super Rugby with the Hurricanes.
“It’s been a tough decision for me and my family to have to make,” he said during a press conference at Dublin Airport prior to the squad’s departure. “I’ve really enjoyed working with this Ireland team and management. Apart from it being pretty successful time, we’ve had heaps of fun as well but the opportunity to go back to New Zealand and be closer to my family is really important to me at this stage of my life.”
Prior to joining Ireland, Plumtree had been based in South Africa for seven years, where he had been Sharks head coach until last June, when his contract was not renewed. He added the toughest part of his decision was telling Schmidt of his decision last Sunday.
REVISED IRELAND SQUAD: Forwards: R Ah You (Connacht) *, R Best (Ulster), J Cronin (Munster) *, R Diack (Ulster) *, I Henderson (Ulster), C Henry (Ulster), J Heaslip (Leinster), R Herring (Ulster) *, D Kilcoyne (Munster), J McGrath (Leinster), J Murphy (Leinster), P O’Connell (Munster), M Ross (Leinster), R Ruddock (Leinster), D Toner (Leinster), D Varley (Munster).
BACKS: D Cave (Ulster), F Jones (Munster), R Kearney (Leinster), I Madigan (Leinster), K Marmion (Connacht) *, L Marshall (Ulster), F McFadden (Leinster), C Murray (Munster), E Reddan (Leinster), N Reid (Leinster) *, J Sexton (Racing Metro), A Trimble (Ulster), S Zebo (Munster).
*Indicates uncapped player.