Joe Schmidt put the band back together yesterday and reminded his Grand Slam winners they were the rock stars in this Test series with Australia, not the support act, writes Simon Lewis in Melbourne.
A week on from the gloom and doom of a series-opening defeat to the Wallabies that marked the end of a 12-match winning run, the head coach will tomorrow want his world number two-ranked team, a collection of Six Nations titleists, European champions, and league winners, to roll out their greatest hits and take this three-game contest into a deciding rubber in Sydney seven days later.
That the Ireland tour bus failed to start after training yesterday should not matter a jot, despite Schmidt muttering about bad omens following the late arrival in Murrayfield that preceded a 2017 opening-day defeat to Scotland.
For he has named a team that should be oozing with confidence and fired by a determination to right the wrongs of Saturday’s 18-9 defeat in Brisbane.
In short, his players should not forget how good they are.
“I think they have talked about backing themselves,” Schmidt said after revealing a side strengthened by the return of six Grand Slam starters.
“I am not sure if ever an Irishman ever promotes himself and says they are better than other people, it is probably not so much in their character to step out and say, ‘I am really good at this game’.
“I think there is a big sense we are capable of winning this game, that we have the personnel, the individuals, able to do it.
"I think Garry (Ringrose) speaking earlier, he is a guy who would say very little about himself but if he does not have confidence deep down, I would be surprised, because he is a super player.
“It is a really good point that we have to keep our confidence. What is probably better reflected as a one-score game (in the first Test), what we can bring this week hopefully will give their confidence a boost.
"While we probably won’t talk about it too much, hopefully, it will consolidate a bit of self-belief.”
The return of PRO14, Champions Cup, and Six Nations winners Johnny Sexton, Garry Ringrose, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Devin Toner, and Dan Leavy bolsters a starting line-up again captained by Peter O’Mahony.
Schmidt has also sprung a surprise at hooker where Munster’s Niall Scannell is handed a start rather than Sean Cronin, having been called into the touring party on the eve of departure following the withdrawal of injured skipper Rory Best.
In the backline, Andrew Conway is given a chance to stake his World Cup credentials on the right wing having missed the Six Nations through injury, replacing the player of the championship Jacob Stockdale who is given the chance to rest a sore body.
That’s eight changes to the XV facing an unchanged Wallabies 23 at AAMI Park, with Keith Earls having completed his return to play protocols after a failed Head Injury Assessment on Saturday to retain his place, but he switches from right to left wing.
Props Healy and Furlong to replace Jack McGrath and John Ryan respectively, while Scannell is in for Rob Herring, who moves to the replacements.
Iain Henderson makes way for Toner at lock and Leavy regains the number seven jersey at openside at the expense of Jordi Murphy.
Fly-half Sexton returns at number 10 after a solid start last week from Joey Carbery as Ringrose comes into midfield at 13, pushing Robbie Henshaw inside to 12 with Aki edged out.
There is a new-look bench with a potential debut for Scarlets’ Munster-bound lock Tadhg Beirne and only outside back Jordan Larmour retained from the first Test in the week of his 21st birthday while there are opportunities in this middle Test for tighthead Andrew Porter and scrum-half John Cooney.
The onus is on each and every one of them to atone for a performance which gave their head coach a sleepless night last Saturday, though Schmidt did not remove himself from the internal criticism of the wee small hours.
“I am not sure whether we win, lose or draw that I am not self-critical. I would say it is always more self-analytical because if you do not critique what you have done, there is always a danger that you will overlook something and even if you get the win, you will get stung at some stage if you are not looking back over things and using a critical eye to be as forensic as you can.
“So, the first thing I did was watch England play South Africa so I could take my mind off it for a while. And then I went back to it and had a look at the first half, had a little bit of sleep before I watched the second half.
“Then you bring that to the coach’s table, and the other coaches have had a look at it, taken their notes, you put that in the melting pot effectively and you try to work out the things we did well, that we can build upon, and also the things we need to self-solve.
“And you know, it is not personnel changes necessarily. Some of it is mindset, some of it freshness, some of it is just prioritising what we need to get right.”
Consider it done. Now play that tune.
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