Schmidt named eight uncapped players in his matchday squad to face second-tier Canada in the Guinness Series opener at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow, giving the weekend off to all but one of the starting heroes of Soldier Field ahead of the rematch with New Zealand on November 19.
Of those eight, three have been handed Test debut starts, with Garry Ringrose, 21, getting his chance after a year-long clamour to hand the rising Leinster star a taste of international rugby. Munster back rower Jack O’Donoghue is another with the promise of a bright future — the Waterford forward will start against the Canadians at No8.
The third newcomer breaks the mould cast by both Ringrose and O’Donoghue, being the rare debutant to be brought in to provide experience alongside a player with more Test caps than him. Yet lock Billy Holland, at the age of 31, will partner Ultan Dillane, 23 two days ago, in the Ireland second row, a recognition of two outstanding seasons service for his province and the work ethic Schmidt values so highly.
After so physical an examination as Ireland underwent in beating the All Blacks last Saturday in Chicago, Schmidt was always likely to rest his frontliners this weekend with Guinness Series Tests against both the All Blacks and Australia looming on successive Saturdays.
Only Donnacha Ryan, named on the bench for tomorrow, remains from last weekend’s XV at Soldier Field, with Schmidt naming a further five potential new caps among the replacements: Leinster hooker James Tracy, Munster tighthead John Ryan, Leinster back row Dan Leavy, and scrum-half Luke McGrath, as well as Connacht wing Niyi Adeolukun.
Munster loosehead Dave Kilcoyne and fly-half Joey Carbery are the other replacements, Carbery shadowing the recalled Paddy Jackson rather than Johnny Sexton, whom he replaced for his Test debut in Chicago.
There will also be plenty of experience on parade in Dublin, with Peter O’Mahony captaining the side from blindside flanker alongside openside Sean O’Brien as the back-row pair make their first Test appearances since October 2015 and February 2016 respectively. Wing Keith Earls returns to the side having missed last week through suspension, while seven of last week’s replacements are handed starting roles.
“One of the things is we probably didn’t (intend) to change as many as we did, but the fatigue factor was very noticeable for us on Tuesday,” said Schmidt.
“We started thinking about maybe changing a few more than initially thought. I think for us as well, you don’t get too many opportunities to make a few changes. I think it’s going to be really tough for these guys on Saturday because we are less experienced.
“We want to challenge them, we want to see how they go and make it tough for them, and see if they can get a cohesion and a performance that allows them to come out with a result at the end of things.
“So there’s probably, to be honest, a third of the team that we thought would be consistent but once we started balancing things up, we just thought ‘right, he’s got a bit of fatigue, he’s got a bit of a knock’.”
Schmidt said he was excited by the new generation of players, who will add depth to the Ireland squad as the build-up to 2019 continues.
“You maybe play a dozen Tests a year so you don’t get too many windows to actually allow people to put their hand up other than watching them very closely in Europe and particularly in the derby games or the top four or six of the PRO12. You are always watching them. But to play at the next level up, that is where you want to see them best and that is where the opportunity allows us to do it this week.
“At the same time, the guys who delivered last week and who are not available this week have also given us good service so we are always trying to mix and match so hopefully over the next year or so, in the Six Nations, then the US and Japan coming up, we will be able to work our way through that group and have a really good look at that.”
Neither Ringrose nor O’Donoghue will be left to fend for themselves with Schmidt placing Test experience around both players. The Leinster midfielder has wings Earls and Craig Gilroy outside him and inside centre Luke Marshall on his inside shoulder, while O’Donoghue is in a backline featuring O’Mahony and O’Brien as Schmidt hopes his rookies realise the potential he has seen in them both.
“I first saw Garry in his senior cup year playing for Blackrock College. He was kicking goals then from all over the place. I thought he had a super game in the final and was really impressive. I thought he was very lean, but again I thought he was quite a natural footballer and so I felt there was some talent there without a doubt.
“Jack first impressed me at U20 level, particularly when he led the U20s in New Zealand. They got through and played in the semi-final in that tournament in Auckland and then they lost the third/fourth play-off, when he was injured for that.
“But I’d seen him play through that tournament and was impressed with him, and I spoke to him out at that tournament and he impressed me as a guy who was very level-headed and very driven to get to the highest level he possibly could.”