Wednesday 13 December 2017

Des Berry: Schmidt happy to let CJ stand tall in green

Schmidt seeking formula to deal with Welsh power

CJ Stander Photo: Sportsfile
CJ Stander Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland manager Mick Kearney and head coach Joe Schmidt arrive for the Ireland U20s clash Photo: Sportsfile

Joe Schmidt has stayed true to two of his values - to serve and to protect.

The Ireland coach has offered a first international cap to Munster captain CJ Stander, but refused to bow to popular opinion in using Stuart McCloskey before the Ulster centre is ready.

The same goes for Leinster openside Josh van der Flier and centre Garry Ringrose, who was out in Carton House this week.

Schmidt has a responsibility to release these men onto the international stage when they are ready, not before it.

Where Peter O'Mahony and Iain Henderson's fall to injury left the number six shirt open to interpretation, the temptation must have been there to side with the worthy impact of Rhys Ruddock.

Instead, Schmidt has turned to Stander as Munster's standard-setter and natural leader in the void left by Paul O'Connell and the redoubtable O'Mahony.

"I think if you don't feel like you have taken a risk (in selection) every time that you go to a test match then you probably haven't given it enough thought," he said.

"I'm forever thinking maybe we should do this or maybe we should do that.

"We should factor the variables in so that we could try to be as certain in our thinking and offer as much clarity to the players as possible.

"It is so that we can make it as black and white as possible because there are so many variables, particularly when kick-off time comes.

"You want as much certainty as you can get."

Schmidt has been impressed by how the South African has taken a back-seat role, being patient enough to listen and learn for what will be his international debut.

"He's actually really quiet, studious and productive.

"I don't know whether it's because it's a new environment for him. I'm sure he has to be more outspoken as captain in Munster.

"But, he's come in, he's slotted in, he's listened more than he's said.

"What he's shown has impressed us and, certainly, he's effervescent from an energy perspective, maybe not from any discourse he's injected into the group.

"But, certainly from his enthusiasm at training and his eagerness to slot in amongst other players that he wouldn't know as well."

The former South Africa Under-20 captain grew up on a steady diet of attrition and confrontation.

It is nothing new to him. He won't take a backward step unless Wales can make him.

It comes down to that.

Ireland have to take Wales on in the trenches without staying there too long.

The game plan has to revolve around being physical when needed and being smart when necessary.

For instance, Keith Earls cannot go toe-to-toe with George North.

There has to be a plan for Earls' agility and dexterity to take advantage of North's poor decision-making in defence.

"Specifically, I guess that every Test match is absolutely exactly that," said the Ireland boss.

The talk of war is the first and last port of call in any of the five rounds of the Six Nations. "Going to Rome last year it was a heck of a battle. I don't think anyone can take any team for granted at all," he said.

But Italy are not Wales, no matter what way you spin it.

"I think Wales have a formula that works for them," said Schmidt. "They have a continuity of selection and they play a power game that they're built to play.


"If they bring their wingers off 10 or off 9, Tom James or George North, or if they bring Jamie Roberts through the middle, Jon Davies is a big man as well, good feet; that's a challenge for us every time they do it.

"And then they get big players carrying around the corner or back on the short side or trying to go right through the middle of you.

"If that doesn't work, then Dan Biggar's kicking ability will test you out in behind that front line. That's a formula that really works for them and that's been proven in the successes they've had."

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