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Perfectionist Joe Schmidt setting the bar high for Ireland

By Tony Ward

On Saturday, we were reminded of the most beautiful aspect to sport - its sheer unpredictability.

All rational analysis in the build-up pointed to a South African win and short of Ireland fronting up, a substantial one at that. Well, we got it wrong as once again the outstanding coach that is Joe Schmidt worked the oracle.

This was his eighth win in 11 games since taking control and what he brings to the table is a work ethic that few can match.

It can in part be traced to his teaching background but, much more than that, it seems to be innate.

When he says that "the only thing that guarantees performance is the best preparation you can put yourself through, then hopefully that performance will be good enough to get the result," you know he means it.

He asks nothing of his players in terms of work ethic and commitment to that principle that he would not and does not demand of himself.

With that as the starting point for fellow coaches and players alike, is it any wonder that he is held in such high regard by almost everybody in rugby that he comes in contact with?

What you see is what you get, not just in terms of hard graft and preparation but clever preparation at that.

I don't know if he suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder around the house but when it comes to rugby and the training paddock, the amicable New Zealander is a perfectionist.

He has set the bar high and expectations will rise accordingly but that is why he is what he is and, without doubt, he's the All Blacks head coach in waiting.

Rugby is as fickle now as any other professional sport, and he knows that a disappointing performance against the Georgians, or indeed a repeat of the no-show against the Wallabies from a year ago, could see attitudes change rapidly.

And yet I feel Irish rugby folk are already well enough acquainted with its string-pulling head coach to appreciate just how fortunate we are that Wilson's Hospital proved his first port of call all those years ago.

It's early days on the road to Twickenham 2015, but in persuading Schmidt and his family to delay their return to New Zealand, IRFU chief executive Philip Browne and his team have given us the best chance possible working towards RWC 8.

But, back to matters more immediate and the visit of the Lelos (Georgia). Bear in mind we are already minus Keith Earls, Luke Fitzgerald, Cian Healy, Iain Henderson, Dave Kearney, Luke Marshall, Fergus McFadden, Marty Moore, Jordi Murphy, Sean O'Brien, Donnacha Ryan, Mike Sherry, Dan Tuohy, Andrew Trimble, Damien Varley and Rory Best.

We could still be short Chris Henry, while Jared Payne seems certain to be rested, irrespective of his ankle healing given the six-day turnaround between Georgia and Australia.

Of those, you would say six, maybe seven - O'Brien, Healy, Henry, Trimble, Payne, Henderson and Best - would be in the match-day 23 at this point in time, but nonetheless for a rugby-playing nation of our size it is quite a hit to have to take. But Schmidt deals in what he has and prepares accordingly.

Second-guessing him ahead of Georgia is difficult in the extreme. The plan will be to mix and match, balancing new blood and experience, yet at the same time ensuring the spine is strong.

Despite Michael Bradley's involvement as assistant coach, Georgian rugby is about numbers one to eight in general and numbers one to three in particular. They make no apologies for that.

Where we are most vulnerable at the moment - primarily through injury - they are at their strongest. If the game started at loosehead and finished at tight, they would be world champions every time. The trick will be in keeping the number of scrums to a minimum.

The case for the finishing front-row against South Africa to start against Georgia is compelling, with maybe Jack McGrath in reserve, but only if needs be.

In the second-row, I would go with Devin Toner and Mike McCarthy, leaving Dave Foley to make his entrance on the hour. It would be nice to rest the entire back-row but on the assumption Henry is not ready, I would go with Ruddock at six, Tommy O'Donnell at seven and Jamie Heaslip wearing the captain's arm band at eight.

At scrum-half, I would give Eoin Reddan the start he needs if he is to be up to speed for back-up against the Wallabies six days on. At out-half, Ian Madigan should get the nod, allowing for Gordon D'Arcy's return alongside and Robbie Henshaw moving one place out to 13.

The back three offers a bit of a conundrum. Should Rob Kearney retain his place on the grounds of experience and counter-attacking ability or should Felix Jones get the opportunity to show his reinvention as an orthodox attacking full-back?

I would go with the latter and give the former St Andrew's and Seapoint No 15 the home start he craves and on current form deserves.

On the wing, I would give Tommy Bowe a break he likely doesn't want and put fellow Ulster flyer Craig Gilroy in his place down the right, leaving Simon Zebo still in situ on the left.

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