Joe Schmidt has invited Ireland’s second string to do the maths and work out there are still plenty of places up for grabs heading into the final preparations for Sunday’s Six Nations opener with Scotland.
Schmidt, along with assistant coaches Les Kiss and John Plumtree, were in Gloucester on Saturday night to witness the Irish Wolfhounds claim a hard-fought but thoroughly deserved victory over the England Saxons.
The win, in difficult conditions after a pre-match downpour, came courtesy of a first-half try apiece for Leinster half-backs Isaac Boss and Ian Madigan, and with a number of vacancies still to fill in the Test match-day squad when the Irish management select their 23 for the Aviva Stadium next weekend, Schmidt gave a number of Wolfhounds grounds for optimism.
“I think of the players here [in Gloucester] we had a squad of 45 players in camp for the week. I thought we had quite a seamless week as far as transitioning in and out of the Wolfhounds team.
“The team were effectively opposition for them during the week, there are a number of positions up for grabs. We had 16 fit players back [at Carton House] and 16 doesn’t make a squad of 23 or a group of 25 or a squad of 32. So I’m not great at maths but you can work it out that there are a number of spots open.”
Schmidt said he was facing a challenge to narrow down his squad for the first games against the Scots and Wales six days later.
“I think there are some positions that the majority of people have a fair idea about and there are some positions that have been well documented in the media that are very much wide open. That’s part of the reason why myself John Plumtree and Les Kiss are here tonight. We’ve divvied up a number of players that we are trying to keep an eye on both on and off the ball and try to make some tough decisions.
“There’ll be some tight decisions that will exist for the next two weeks and then we’ll maybe reshuffle the deck and go again without trying to remix too many things and lose continuity.”
Schmidt admitted to some mixed feelings facing into his first Six Nations campaign.
“I can’t wait and I wish I was miles away,” the New Zealander said. “I suppose a lot of opposite emotions. I can’t wait to get started, it’s exciting, I think I described it on Wednesday as an event not a match. It’s just all the excitement around it. But at the same time there is a little bit of expectation building and that excitement and expectation is great to have.
“It’s allowed us to have sold out grounds and hopefully a vocal crowd and on the back of that hopefully we can meet expectation, but that lends a bit of weight or expectation and I’m a bit nervous about that.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved