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Sunday 4 December 2016

Schmidt is open to change

Healy on course for World Cup as fit again White puts pressure on unseen prop Moore

Paul O’Connell will be making his final home appearance for Ireland at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow
Paul O’Connell will be making his final home appearance for Ireland at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow
Cian Healy is on course to make a return to action

Ireland's Joe Schmidt could just become the exception to the rule - the coach who was never sacked.

That is how high and bright his star shines at present.

It didn't happen at the Bay of Plenty. It didn't happen at Auckland Blues. It didn't happen at Clermont-Auvergne. It didn't happen at Leinster.

It won't happen at Ireland.

"There's only two types of coaches, those who've been sacked and those who are on their way to being sacked. You're always taking a risk."

It is the calculations behind those risks based on microscopic observation and detail that have made Schmidt indispensbile to this point in his career.

The next step along the road to the World Cup is up.

Express

The express train coming straight at Ireland will be Warren Gatland's Wales, in what will be a sharp contrast to the international of three weeks ago.

"I do think that the two teams will both really be up for the challenge as two collectives and, within that, there are the individual efforts to make sure they get on the plane," Schmidt summed up.

"The individual match-ups will be really interesting and those match-ups could be world class.

"I don't think you get much more world class than Paul O'Connell and that's demonstrated by the longevity, the number of games and the leadership.

"Obviously he's captain of the side and will be playing his last Test at the Aviva and I think it will be a special end for him if we get a good result.

"He's up against Alun Wyn Jones, who is world class. There's a number of world class match-ups and the challenge for players is to end up on the positive side of the ledger."

Schmidt indicated Rory Best will play against England, Cian Healy could and Marty Moore is under pressure from Nathan White.

Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble have been rerouted to Ulster for this evening; Fergus McFadden to Leinster.

There will be keen rivalries all over the pitch tomorrow.

"I think Johnny Sexton versus Dan Biggar, I think Rhys Webb versus Conor Murray, Rob Kearney versus Leigh Halfpenny - they're very different but both very good at what they do well.

"And you've got two very big men, Jamie Roberts, who is established as a world class operator, and Robbie Henshaw, who is a very nailed on, low key individual."

Schmidt didn't stop there.

"You go (Toby) Faletau versus Jamie Heaslip, (Dan) Lydiate versus (Peter) O'Mahony.

"Individually, there will be some really good match-ups so we will get some good feedback from individuals.

"Collectively, the core of that Welsh team has been together since that last World Cup, where they were so impressive.

"The core of our team have been together, certainly through the last two years and before that."

Schmidt's remit is to make dreams come true for 31 men and break them for others.

He will get around to 'the devastated' by Sunday evening, Monday morning at the latest.

"I do think that the worst part of selection is not naming 31, it's speaking with the 14 others. That's the most difficult part," he said.

"It's an imperfect process and it will be, potentially, not quite be the perfect 31.

"There will be a degree of risk in some positions because our cover won't be as deep as we'd like it to be and there'll be some really good cover in other positions."

Ireland: R Kearney; D Kearney, L Fitzgerald, R Henshaw, K Earls; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Strauss, N White, I Henderson, P O'Connell (capt), P O'Mahony, J Murphy, J Heaslip.

Wales: L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, S Williams, J Roberts, G North; D Biggar, R Webb; G Jenkins, K Owens, T Francis, B Davies, AW Jones (capt), D Lydiate, J Tipuric, T Faletau.

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