Thursday 20 September 2018

Joe Schmidt: We can't make our minds up about World Cup squad

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt

Picking the right 31-man squad for the World Cup this autumn will be a huge challenge for Joe Schmidt who has begun the process of trying to narrow down his options.

Before last night’s defeat to the Barbarians, the New Zealander sat down with his management team to have a go at choosing the final squad as if the deadline was imminent.

In reality, Schmidt has three more months to finalise his panel and four warm-up games to assess their form, but he conceded he is bound to make one or two errors during the difficult selection process.

Tomorrow’s Guinness Pro12 final between Munster and Glasgow Warriors at Kinspan Stadium will help inform his decision further as he continues to assess his options.

“We got together for a couple of hours today and couldn’t make our minds up. Some of what we decided was let’s have a look tonight, and let’s get across the Emerging (Ireland) tour and have a look at another couple of guys over there,” he said last night.

“We tried to narrow down and say right now what would the 31 look like, what would the 46, 47 or even 45 (extended squad) look like.

“It is really difficult, the Barbarians game was another piece in the puzzle that hopefully`can give us more clarity and, from that, we'll go to Belfast on Saturday and get together on Sunday and start to work out how we think things are shaping.

“What we’ll do is that the coaches will get together tomorrow morning and have a look at what we found out about some of the players. We know we’ve got to make some decisions post-Saturday. We’ll get up to Belfast and have a look at a few more players in the Pro12 final and that will really  then give us a bit of a platform to make some selections.”

Schmidt normally names bigger squads during international windows and the challenge of picking 31 players means he will have to compromise on certain positions.

“We had all sorts of combinations today, to be honest,” he said.

“I haven't done this before, I know I'm going to get a few things wrong, because it is inevitable when you first go into something.

“Is it a 17/14 split, if it is a 17/14 split, can you take three out-halves and three scrum-halves - that leaves you quite light elsewhere.

“We have players who are quite versatile in that back five, will that suffice? You know, I'm sure you guys are throwing those same questions around, if you can help me out...

“I'm sure you'll throw a few teams into the media over the next two weeks, I'll try and get a look at them, get some guidance because it is tough.

“It is especially tough when you don't have a lot of recent games. We get quite a good lead in to the World Cup, but we don't get a great lead in to making selection decisions in two months time.

“So, as I say, it's a learning experience for me as well.”

One element that’s beyond’s Schmidt’s control is the potential for injuries to wreck his best laid plans.

He admitted the sight of Conor Murray lying prone on the Thomond Park turf last weekend had given him cause for worry even though it subsequently emerged that the scrum-half’s injury should clear up before the warm-up games get underway.

“That’s part of why we’ve wanted to keep our powder dry a little bit until after Saturday,” he said.

“I saw Conor go down here last weekend and thought ‘that could be a total change in our thinking’, because Conor would obviously be in our squad.

“Therefore you start thinking about ‘right, what are our alternatives?’

“And that’s something that is very, very difficult, because you try to keep a balance of experience as well.

“Conor’s experience might allow someone who’s less experienced to be involved, and if those balances get upset by injury then it may mean that you re-jig the whole position, the positional mix that you’re looking at.

“So it is a little bit complicated, and it is definitely restrictive.

“Because even week to week and you’re thinking that you might have to make changes because of injury, how long’s that injury going to be, because if you replace a player he can’t play again in the tournament, and therefore you’ve got to have good cover there.

“As I say, I’ve spoken to coaches who have been to the tournament, and I’ve read the reviews from the tournament in the past, and tried to learn from those so I minimise my errors.

“But as a coaching staff, Les (Kiss) is a guy who’s really important to us, because he’s been there and understands the conundrum that it is.

“But for myself and Simon (Easterby), again Feeky’s (Greg Feek) has been there last time, but we’re trying to work it out as best we can.”

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