herald

Saturday 3 December 2016

Wales game could be the first and last chance for Ireland hopefuls

Ireland's Cian Healy in action during squad training. Ireland Rugby Squad Training. Carton House, Maynooth, Co. Kildare. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Ireland's Cian Healy in action during squad training. Ireland Rugby Squad Training. Carton House, Maynooth, Co. Kildare. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

The Millennium Stadium will decide the fate of some on Saturday; almost certainly the fate of all on October 11.

That is the date set for Ireland’s foray against France in Pool D from what should be a winner takes the garland of a quarter-final slot against Argentina; the loser the galling prospect of the world champion All Blacks.

It is easy to ignore the fact that the France clash is still more than two months away and it remains to be seen how Ireland’s image will be altered by the players they lose on the way and those that could possibly come through.  

The professional mantra is all about living in the moment.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will reveal his first 15 of the season out in Carton House around high noon today and the make-up of it should reflect which of those skirting the edges of World Cup selection have done enough to earn a shot. 

The first chance could also represent the last chance for those looking to bolt into the Ireland squad, like a certain Conor Murray in 2011.

The import and retention of Connacht tight-head Nathan White could be the signal for the New Zealander’s first cap now that he has finally shaken off injury.

Perhaps, it is a reflection of how slowly Martin Moore is making his way back from shoulder surgery.

Observe

Perhaps, not. It has probably been Schmidt’s plan to introduce White when appropriate and observe how the tight-head acclimatises to life in the hardest lane.

The fact Denis Buckley has not been required could speak well of Cian Healy’s repair from a neck operation and how Dave Kilcoyne is coping out in Carton House.

There is also food for consideration from the under-the-radar steady improvements made last season by the previously maligned Michael Bent as a dual purpose prop, a most handy tool for making the final cut.    

The Millennium is a venue that has been kind to the Irish for some time, the Grand Slam sealed there in 2009, Munster nailing the Heineken Cup in 2006 and adding to it again in 2008, Leinster doing likewise in their miracle comeback against Northampton in 2011.

For all of that, there have also been days of despair, most recently when Wales ultimately denied Ireland just their third Grand Slam in the Six Nations.

The fact that this fixture is a 74,000 sell-out is a credit to the Welsh public and the Welsh rugby union’s pricing.

The decision to close the roof to generate the sweat factory conditions will be another tortuous drain on players taking their first steps back to work.

Warren Gatland has already revealed how Joe Schmidt and himself have  been in conversation about their selections. It would seem logical that they came to an understanding on how not one definite starter will play on Saturday.

The Wales coach has already placed his cards for this one on the table with four new caps. At best, Schmidt has three possible new boys in White, Furlong and number eight Jack Conan. 

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