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Thursday 17 August 2017

Henshaw and Payne will get first bite at thirteen

Schmidt prepares for Wallabies and Sprinboks tests

Robbie Henshaw, right, will stake his claim to replace Brian O'Driscoll, left, in the Ireland side
Robbie Henshaw, right, will stake his claim to replace Brian O'Driscoll, left, in the Ireland side

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has narrowed the November contenders to replace Brian O'Driscoll down to Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne.

"There's two players there right now with Robbie and Jared and those two players are likely to get some time there, providing they come through fit this weekend," revealed Schmidt.

"That's where we're looking at the moment. The first bite of the cherry is likely to go to those two guys."

STAY

In addition, Schmidt also pointed to the probability that Gordon D'Arcy will stay at twelve for his country, when he has played predominantly at thirteen for his province this season.

"He is another player who we think can cover 13 but, jeez, he's a good 12 and sometimes you just want to make sure that people can contribute where they're most comfortable and most effective and have the experience in.

"For example, if it is Robbie at thirteen, what better man to have inside him than Darce?

"I think that sort of thing is important when you starting to put combinations together. Not that we've made our minds up."

Ireland will start out with the Springboks on the second weekend in November; Australia the fourth.

"I'd love to get one of those two results," said Schmidt.

"South Africa do loom large.

"I don't know if there's been a better player in the world this year than (Duane) Vermeulen. I think he's been unbelievable and we know so many of their other players.

"There are some more of their players we don't know so well.

"I was down at the Junior World Cup and watched (Handre) Pollard as a young fellah playing in that final against England and he is an impressive young player, an impressive physical ball-carrier, he's a big kid.

"So, there's the new and the old there and they have got a great mix and they'll be very tough."

The third test will bring together two former Leinster coaches, the two most influential figures in taking the province from contenders to champions.

"I have no doubt that Michael Cheika had a big part to play in that and for us he's a dangerous addition to the Australian group," he said.

"He does drive an environment and a culture. That's what he did at Leinster, what he did with the Waratahs. That could manifest in some pretty good performances from a very collective Australia."

The competitive instinct that drives Schmidt means he will want to go three-from-three. He may have to settle for something short of that.

"If we get one or the other - if we don't get the first one I've just put myself under the hammer . We don't need to get those to keep growing our confidence, but it would certainly help".

The introduction of Ian Keatley ahead of Paddy Jackson as back-up fly-half to Jonathan Sexton and competition to Ian Madigan is one based on game time and form.

"Paddy has played one full game this season. Is that good preparation to play Test match rugby? We don't think it is," he said.

"We think his best preparation is to play, if selected, this week, next week and the Australia week with Ulster".

The promotion of Keatley is part of a path the Munster fly-half has been on for quite a while.

"It's always a combination of things. I don't think it's something that suddenly crystalises itself, or very seldom. Sometimes it's a performance that happens that you say 'well, this guy is needed in the environment.

"He did really well in Toulon last year and that almost got him on the tour.

"Ian Keatley's been in our thinking for that period of time and went very well in Georgia and the feedback from the coaching staff in Georgia is that he led by example, he was very prepared and he played very well."

There may even be an upside to all the injuries Schmidt has had to contend with ahead of the intimidating three-test series with muscle-bound Georgia in the sandwich.

It could mean opportunity where, otherwise, there would not have been as Schmidt continues to build depth.

"I guess one of the things for Guinness is 'made of more,' the advertising campaign they're building into the Guinness series," he said.

SUBSTANCE

"We need to be made of more. We need to be made of more depth, more substance and the new faces are around that."

While Schmidt has had to work without fifteen faces, including Seán O'Brien, Cian Healy, Andrew Trimble, Dave Kearney and Donnacha Ryan, it does offer opportunity, particularly to five uncapped players.

The involvement of Payne was flagged from a long way off. The participation of the other four uncapped players was not so straight forward.

"It is an inexact science. But, you try to put as many variables in there when you make those selections."

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