Safety first Schmidt: why I dashed Ulster duo's hopes
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has admitted he erred on the side of caution when deciding not to pitch Luke Marshall and the uncapped Stuart McCloskey into his midfield to take on Wales in tomorrow's Six Nations opener at the Aviva (3.00pm).
The Ulster duo have been in superb form for their province this season and were pushing for international reward, but Schmidt's bid for three titles in-a-row will begin with Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw in the centre.
It was that pair who started each game of last season's Six Nations and have been the Kiwi's preferred selection whenever fit since Payne qualified for Ireland on residency in November 2014.
"When we got the group together we looked at how they trained, and looked at how they slotted in," said Schmidt.
"We trained last Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and we've had three sessions this week so it's not like you have a wealth of opportunity to measure players against each other and then make decisions - and particularly not a wealth of time to build a combination.
"We looked quite hard at the Stuart McCloskey-Luke Marshall combination because that was already a settled one and we had the opportunity to slot in the combination that we've seen and utilised through the previous Six Nations, which we did. Those two have done a super job."
McCloskey was instead a late addition to the Ulster bench for their game with Dragons last night.