The phoney war may well be starting in Cardiff on Saturday as Ireland plays the first of its four World Cup warm-up Tests but however much experimentation will be seen when Joe Schmidt today unveils his team to face Wales, the camp are insisting there will be no cheap caps.
Having promised that even those involved in the back-to-back Six Nations championship successes are not guaranteed their places when the tournament begins next month, forwards coach Simon Easterby has also insisted that this weekend’s mission will not see players handed an Irish jersey on a whim.
Places in the final 31-man squad to be named on September 6 are still very much up for grabs but in deciding who should face Warren Gatland’s Wales side at a sold-out Millennium Stadium, the Ireland management want to give chances only to those in the extended 46-man group currently in camp at Carton House that they feel merit the right to stake a claim.
“We are looking at different options, there’s no secret in that, but we have to be fair in giving as many opportunities to those we feel deserve opportunity,” Easterby said ahead of this afternoon’s team announcement, “but it’s a Test match and we’re not going to hand out caps for the sake of it just because they’re in the wider squad.”
Former Scarlets boss Easterby suggested Schmidt will not necessarily follow Gatland’s lead in terms of selection today with the Wales head coach naming his XV on Tuesday to be captained by Scott Williams that features four new caps and a string of players on the fringes of the first team.
“The selection is a mixture of youth and experience, there are four new caps in the starting team, some really exciting players in there and in the backline in particular in Hallam Amos, players that maybe some guys aren’t familiar with.
“Eli Walker on the wing has had periods out of the game but is another guy who can be electric. I know from first-hand experience of players like Jake Ball and Dominic Day in the second row, guys that I would have coached in the Scarlets, so there is a real good mix in their team, they’ve got the old heads at half-back as well in (Mike) Phillips and (James) Hook and we know that they’re all going to be trying to impress and push for that 31-man selection at the end of August.
“But it doesn’t change our thinking in terms of our selection, it’s important that we focus and prep for this game as you would do any Test match and make sure that individuals are clued in on some of the strengths and weaknesses of opposition.
“But we also have to focus on ourselves and make sure that we that we get our own house in order and hopefully that will be rewarded in performances throughout August.
“There’s always going to be element of fatigue in these early games, and an element of rustiness, but we’ve just going to be hopefully as accurate as we can be and work together, and hopefully that will show that throughout the games and then in that build-up into the World Cup.”
Playing in front of a partisan Welsh crowd will also have the added bonus of acclimatising less experienced players to a stadium Schmidt’s men will twice visit during the Pool D campaign, first up against Canada in their tournament opener on September 19 and then for the crunch clash with France on October 11.
“It’s a great exercise for us looking down the line a little bit,” Easterby added. “There will be a few players who will have experience of that place and some won’t, there will be plenty to take out of the Test match; hopefully more positive than negative and it will be something to build on.” end
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