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Ireland and Schmidt now in a good place

By Frank Quinn

JOE Schmidt (New Zealand) started as Irish Senior Coach in July 2013. He has coached for 10 international test games; he won 7 and lost 3 to the top four teams in the world. The 2013 Guinness Series New Zealand game hurt him the most with a 24-22 loss and he also lost to Australia and England in the RBS 6N. A seventy percent win ratio at this level is readily acceptable especially when you throw in a 2014 6N championship in his first year. It was a good year to accept the position and the feel good factor will roll on to the Guinness Series 2014 with South Africa, Georgia and Australia as visitors again this November. He has appealed to the Irish rugby follower with his no nonsense approach and his open TV/media personality and an ability to explain his selections and his game plan. He has that relaxed communications ability to make it all sound very plausible. There was a huge feel good factor over the Brian O’Driscoll retirement game(s), which rubbed off on Joe. It helped get the attendances up with a great atmosphere at the games. His key words to the players are: Do your homework, planning, attention to detail, play the game plan, cut out mistakes and concentration. Recently in defence of Simon Zebo’s performance in Argentina, he was able to quote chapter and verse from his video analysis about his tackles, his play, his position and his overall good performance. Luke Fitzgerald quoted him in connection with video analysis. Leinster had scored a try and of course the players, well “we were standing there applauding”, but he just asked Luke, “where were you?. “You were not in the right place.” Watch the video. Schmidt appears to have the ability to gobble up videos and spit out all the nitty gritty relative detail from memory. His next big obstacle is the retention of the 6N championship in February/March 2015 and this is followed by the RWC in England 18th September to 31st October 2015. (There will be 2/3 warm-up games in the summer) It is a daunting enough schedule which the meticulous Schmidt will relish – in which we have Canada, Italy, France and Romania in our Pool D of the RWC – two teams to qualify for the quarter finals. We have qualified for five quarter finals out of seven editions of the RWC, so “there is a lot more to do” to reach a semi final (Objective) and get into the top real four ranked teams in the world. So what players are going to get him into a semi final at Twickenham stadium come the end of October 2015? We need to look at the historical selections and his recent Argentinean tour selections in June 2014. Since he took over he has used 46 players in the starting squads, and 31 of these started games (the litmus test), 15 players did not start. 15 players started in +6 test matches. (Injured players not included e.g. Sean O’Brien). Take note of these 14 as they appear to be his key backbone/spine men now and going forward to 2015. (Ex BOD retired) The roll of honour for ten games is: 10 starts for 2 playersBest and Ross 9 starts for 4 players, Robert Kearney, Sexton, Heaslip and Toner 8 starts for 4 players, Murray, O’Connell, Henry and Brian O’Driscoll (retd.) 7 starts for 3 players, Trimble, Healy and O’Mahony 6 starts for 2 players, D’Arcy, Dave Kearney 3 starts for 2 players ,Bowe and McFadden 2 starts for 6 players, Cave, Zebo, Reddan, L. Marshal, McGrath and Henderson 1 start for 8 players, Jackson, Tuohy, McCarthy, Jones, Diack, Murphy, Kilcoyne and Ruddock There were no starts for 15 players: Cronin, Fitzpatrick, McLaughlin, Boss, Fitzgerald, Henshaw, Madigan, Archer, O’Donnell, Moore, Herring, Reid, Marmion, Varley and Rodney Ah You Emerging Ireland Squad In addition there were 26 players named for the Emerging Ireland IRB Nations Cup tournament in Romania in June. Some capped players, McCarthy, Gilroy, Bent, O’Donnell, Keatley and Paul Marshal were included but the majority “were emerging” players. For the record, the uncapped players: Forwards: Annett, Black, Butler, Byrne, Copeland, Dougall, Foley, Kearney, Dominic Ryan, John Ryan, Tracy. (Ah You was named but transferred to the Argentina squad). Backs: Allen, Conway Griffin, Hanrahan, Macken, Luke McGrath, Johne Murphy, Reid. In the first abandoned game in Romania due to weather conditions – Ireland won and was leading Russia 60-0 at half time and then beat Uruguay 51/3.  In the final game Ireland won 31-10 against the home team Romania. It is difficult to gauge the usefulness of these fixtures except to fulfil IRB requirements. U20’s The Irish U20’s reached the semi finals of the Junior Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in June, (beaten by England). The pool stages are intense with a four day turnaround for three games. A number of players from this group are expected to put their hands up for Schmidt’s attention. (Schmidt attended the 3/4 playoff game with New Zealand) There were 45 players in the squads for Ireland in addition to the 20 uncapped players in Emerging Ireland. Making a total of 65 players available, all selected by Joe Schmidt. This accounts for more than half of the full professional eligible rugby players in Ireland and it means that half of the players come directly under Schmidt’s radar Of course there is four months to the Guinness Series in November and the Celtic League and the European Cups pool stages have to be played. Time enough for additional players to establish a claim to get on Joe Schmidt’s hit list for the test matches. It is a good position for Schmidt to be in, to have been able to include such a wide variety of experienced and youthful players in his selections. He has the break to November now followed by the six nations and the six month break to the RWC. Then can he put together winning combinations for the Guinness Series in 2014, the RBS 6N and the RWC in 2015.

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