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Monday 5 December 2016

Schmidt shows faith in Irish squad

Healy let off the leash as Henshaw held back

Cian Healy will start for Ireland for the first time since playing for 53 minutes against Scotland back in March as one of twelve changes
Cian Healy will start for Ireland for the first time since playing for 53 minutes against Scotland back in March as one of twelve changes
Jamie Heaslip

The Beast from the East is really back. Cian Healy will start for Ireland for the first time since playing for 53 minutes against Scotland back in March as one of twelve changes.

"He is always an asset whether he's in the team or off the bench," commented coach Joe Schmidt.

"He came off the bench mostly through the Six Nations. But, the one start he did against Scotland, he got two turnovers in the first 20 minutes on the ground.

"He's a very strong carrier for us. He gets the advantage line."

Then, Schmidt offered a glimpse into the reason why Healy is so revered in the game.

He can be almost too good for Ireland's good.

"He's a very, very strong scrummager," said Schmidt.

"Sometimes it is a case of restraining Cian in the scrum because you want to keep it as square as you can.

"It is about containing some of the force he applies."

Okay, there was typical impact from his final quarter entrance against Canada. But, this is taking his comeback form neck surgery to the next level.

Logic

Schmidt has retained just three starters from the caning of Canada as captain Jamie Heaslip, centre Jared Payne and wing Keith Earls earn the right to back-up.

As always, the logic behind Schmidt's selection is crystal clear.

"I think Jared's playing really well," he said.

"He hasn't played a huge amount in the pre-World Cup test matches. It's just: can he continue as he is?"

Earls is just beginning to find his feet again in the international arena.

"I thought he had a super game last week.

"He played really well in the matches leading up to the World Cup. Again, it's more of the same.

"Keith feels that now that he's back involved in the Irish squad, he wants to get a bit of rhythm, trying to make sure he's in synch with what the other players are doing."

The legendary fitness of Heaslip took a turn for the worse last season from that back injury.

He is still the closest thing Ireland have to unbreakable.

"I guess Jamie, his leadership, when we decided not to start Paul, one of the back row had to back-up and he was a reasonably obvious choice given that he comes into lead the side."

There does not seem to be too much leeway for Tommy Bowe or Devin Toner to break back into the first fifteen based on the form of Dave Kearney, Earls and Iain Henderson.

In addition, Schmidt erred on the side of caution with Robbie Henshaw even though the centre is up and running full-out on his hamstring.

"We just felt that we'd rather not push ahead," said Schmidt.

"Soft tissue injuries can be quite complicated. If you get a re-injury on the same site, then you are really in a situation where his World Cup is in doubt.

"This way, we feel we've taken no risk. There are times to take risks. This is clearly not one of them. The same goes for Paul O'Connell.

He will have to click his heels on the bench as part of Schmidt's plan to keep him humming all the way through the tournament, for however long Ireland last.

"He feels good. He feels fit. I thought he played really well last week.

"To have him in that sort of shape is a massive bonus for us. To keep him in that shape is part of why he's on the bench, to make sure he gets a breather."

Ireland: S Zebo; T Bowe, J Payne, D Cave, K Earls; I Madigan, E Reddan; C Healy, R Strauss, N White, D Ryan, D Toner, J Murphy, C Henry, J Heaslip (capt).

Romania: C Fercu; A Apostol, P Kinikinilau, C Gal, I Botezatu; M Wirinji, V Calafeteanu; A Ursache, A Radoi, P Ion, V Poparlan, O Tonita, V Ursache, M Macovei (capt) D Carpo. Verdict: Ireland.

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