Schmidt counts on fresh legs for final push

INTERNATIONAL TEST:

Schmidt counts on fresh legs for final push

Three of the changes are at the back where, as expected, Rob Kearney comes in at full-back for Felix Jones and Eoin Reddan takes over from Conor Murray at scrum-half. Murray has been declared fit after recovering from a dead leg.

He is selected on the bench, with Kieran Marmion, one of three debutants last week, to drop out of the match-day squad along with Rodney Ah You and Robbie Diack.

Jonathan Sexton has fully recovered from a cramp injury picked up in the opening 29-17 win and will start, meaning that Ian Madigan again has to settle for a place on the bench.

Simon Zebo has been given another opportunity to stake a claim for permanent inclusion in the squad having been out of the international arena for a year.

The head injury picked up by Luke Marshall was an added factor in selecting the centres, although he has continued to train all week, with Schmidt switching Darren Cave to 12 and Fergus McFadden being handed the outside centre role in a back line where only Cave and Zebo are single-figure caps.

The four changes up front are along predictable lines with Dave Kilcoyne getting the nod over his Munster colleague James Cronin for the loosehead role, with Devin Toner taking over from Iain Henderson in the second row.

Two more Leinster players are drafted into the back row with Jamie Heaslip taking over from Jordi Murphy at No 8, while Rhys Ruddock will win his third cap in place of Diack.

And having handed three players their international bows last weekend, Schmidt, who is picking from a full hand of 29 players, is likely to spring three more tomorrow with Rob Herring, James Cronin and Noel Reid set to make their debuts off a bench which sees Jack McGrath, rather than Ah You, provide the tighthead cover.

“We brought 29 players on tour and we wanted them all to be involved in the match-day squad. That’s probably the first aspect of the selection. The second thing is that we have a number of fresh players to come in, a number of those were the guys involved in the Pro12 final and they will come in and it allows them to give a bit of a boost.

“There has been a lot of travel on tour, even to and from training venues and so just to bring a bit of freshness into the side will be a positive,” he said at yesterday’s announcement at the team hotel in Tucuman.

The switch of Cave from outside to inside centre was something that he had planned before they left Ireland but he had hoped to pair him with Robbie Henshaw.

“It still gives us an opportunity to have a look at Darren at 12 and 13. I just think with Fergus [McFadden], it’s the versatility that he offers and to have players that have that adaptability to be able to play multiple positions.

“I think that’s what you need in a team because it’s very seldom, well I’d say never in an international, do you start with 15 and not make any changes.”

Schmidt said Jack McGrath had trained as a tighthead during his time with Leinster and he had also played a lot of AIL in that position so he felt it was better to get him to cover the position as Ah You had only been drafted in at the last moment.

And he said that Saturday’s Test was another opportunity for Zebo to progress.

“Simon certainly did some good things during the game and having gone back over the video there was some quality in what he did defensively. I think his tackle accuracy was good.

“Post tackle there was things that he and I had a look at that maybe he can sharpen up and a couple of times maybe there were opportunities for someone else where maybe if he didn’t take too much out of the ball maybe he could get other people involved.

“But when he does take a bit out of the ball he is such a threat carrying it that we think that is a real strength. I felt his work off the ball in the deep, in behind, was very, very good, it gave us the opportunity to pendulum with our back three, I think that is a step forward for him,” added Schmidt.

Three players looking to impress

Ian Keatley

Munster’s No 10 is down in the pecking order in national terms but Joe Schmidt had made it clear that this particular tour is important in the overall scheme of his plans for Irish rugby.

JJ Hanrahan

Down a step from Keatley, Hanrahan could well take his opportunity if he gets that opportunity on this trip. The youngster has been earmarked for a good future and that future is really up to him.

Robin Copeland

At the risk of being provincial biased, another Munster player is today under the microscope. Copeland joins up with Munster this coming season from Cardiff and he makes his debut at senior level in an Irish shirt this evening.

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