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Saturday 10 December 2016

Schmidt to leave no stone unturned for 2019 Lions

Irish boss rules out Lions role as trio make Canada debuts

Garry Ringrose will make his Ireland debut against Canada tomorrow. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Garry Ringrose will make his Ireland debut against Canada tomorrow. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Joe Schmidt has categorically ruled out playing a role for the British & Irish Lions in New Zealand next summer.

The Ireland coach put forth his reasoning behind the decision, despite Warren Gatland's public invitation during the week.

"It has only changed availability-wise because I have extended," said Schmidt, in relation to his recent two-year contract extension.

"A big part of the motivation for me not being involved in the Lions was going to the USA and Japan and working with this next cadre of players because the best of our players will go on the Lions and the more the better," he stated.

"That would be fantastic and, hopefully, a few more will put their hands up with 'Gats' in the stadium on Saturday."

Gatland has already made a lot of noise about how there are places on the plane to New Zealand for men who may not be first-choice for their nation.

There will be three new caps from the start against Canada in centre Garry Ringrose, second row Billy Holland and number eight Jack O'Donoghue.

It is probable that five more in hooker James Tracy, prop John Ryan, flanker Dan Leavy, scrum-half Luke McGrath and wing Niyi Adeolokun will join them.

The message is clear. Schmidt will leave no player deemed worthy unturned and untried ahead of the 2019 World Cup.

"The ones that don't go, that's going to be a really interesting group for us," he added.

"I want to make sure I get to know those guys and getting away on tour is one of the best ways to do it.

"I thought even in South Africa, the three weeks we had getting to know people, you start to assess whatever further development players may have, where the ceiling may be for them and where the progress may extend out to.

"You are always trying to make those decisions. It's hard to make those decisions if you are not there."

However, Schmidt has left the door open wide for his defence coach Andy Farrell to renew his relationship with Gatland from the Lions tour to Australia in 2013.

"I would be delighted if Andy went," he stated.

"Firstly, he is a super coach and he does a fantastic job.

"It also means that Andy will keep an eye on our guys.

"It is certainly one collective, but he will be able to give us a bit of feedback on how our guys are going there.

"We will have both bases covered that way.

"That would be quite nice from that perspective. Those are decisions that aren't mine to make."

In terms of tomorrow, Schmidt took time to dwell on his first impressions of Ringrose, O'Donoghue and Holland.

The Leinster centre came under his forensic eye long before the general public knew about him.

"Garry, I first saw him in his Senior Cup year in Blackrock College. He was kicking goals then from all over the place," noted Schmidt.

"I thought he was very lean, but a natural footballer. I felt there was talent there without a doubt."

Schmidt couldn't resist the temptation to take in the Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand back in 2014.

"Jack (O'Donoghue) impressed me at Under-20 level, particularly when he led them to the World Cup semi-final in New Zealand.

"I'd seen him play through that tournament and I spoke to him there.

"He impressed me as a guy who was very level-headed and very driven to get to highest level he possibly could."

STEADY

The rise of Holland has been slow and steady, mainly due to the host of internationals at Munster.

"Billy, I remember him playing in an international, of sorts, (against Australia) for Munster where he was outstanding on a very wet night.

"I kept an eye on him ever since then."

Ireland: T O'Halloran; C Gilroy, G Ringrose, L Marshall, K Earls; P Jackson, K Marmion; C Healy, S Cronin, F Bealham, U Dillane, B Holland, P O'Mahony (capt), S O'Brien, J O'Donoghue.

Canada: TBA.

Verdict: Ireland

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