Six Nations France v Ireland: Joe Schmidt praying lack of prep time won't unsettle Irish
Head coach Joe Schmidt yesterday admitted that this has been one of the most difficult preparation weeks of his Ireland career as he readies his side to face France in Paris tomorrow (2.25pm kick-off).
With no more than four full days between the final whistle of Ireland's Six Nations opener on Sunday, a clash with Wales that ended in a 16-16 draw, and his team announcement for this weekend, Schmidt was left sweating on player availability until the last minute.
Indeed, such was the eleventh-hour nature of a selection that was delayed by almost 30 minutes to allow for final decisions, Fergus McFadden found himself named on Leinster's bench at 12pm but on Ireland's an hour later.
While Schmidt joked that he wasn't even sure his Leinster counterpart Leo Cullen knew that the utility back would be wearing a green, rather than a blue, No.23 jersey this weekend, the situation only added to the intrigue at Carton House.
As it turned out, there will be three changes to the starting XV that took on Wales - Rob Kearney is fit again to start at full-back with Simon Zebo's knee injury seeing him drop out of the panel, Kearney's brother Dave comes onto the wing in place of the concussed Keith Earls while Sean O'Brien is raring to go at openside having not been risked last Sunday.
Any concerns over Jonathan Sexton's shoulder were allayed by the news that Paddy Jackson did not travel with the team as a precaution and will instead be on Ulster's bench tonight against Glasgow in the PRO12.
The problems posed by a six-day turnaround were highlighted further when Schmidt revealed that his side have trained for just 95 minutes since the weekend, while Earls progressed well through his Head Injury Assessments but simply didn't have time to complete the full set of protocols before the team was named.
"I don't want to encourage negativity but it's probably as difficult in some ways as the Argentina game," Schmidt said when comparing the tumultuous nature of the past week to Ireland's World Cup quarter-final exit against The Pumas last year that was preceded by the late withdrawal of Sexton from the side.
"Again, it just doesn't help you be as well prepared as you'd like to be. It's the latest selection and change we've had to make. Normally we would name the match squad before training, and everyone would be fully fit and have absolute clarity on what their role was and where they were training.
"It's probably a bit unsettling and frustrating, but hopefully not too much. We have to get around it.
"It's one of those things with a six-day turnaround, particularly when you're travelling.
"If we had another day at home we could hedge our bets a little bit, but we have to get on a plane at 3.15pm (yesterday), and we've got to take the players that are available to play.
"We were trying to clarify the fitness of Simon Zebo and Keith Earls, who we have left out of the squad.
"One of the reasons it took a while was they got through training, but we just felt that they weren't 100 per cent fit.
"It was a risk and there's nothing worse than having someone replaced early in the game who potentially wasn't fully fit.
"Having someone come off the bench when they're not fully fit is probably not the best thing to do when you're going to Paris."
Having such limited time together on the paddock, Schmidt said that his focus has to be more on organisation rather than any attempts to expand on an attacking style that produced one score against Wales last weekend.
"We had a very short window," he lamented.
"We trained for 32 minutes on Tuesday and for 63 minutes (yesterday).
"We will be very limited in what we do in our captain's run.
"As a result, that's the sum of our preparation for a huge Test match because we can't afford to slip up.
"In the end you're just trying to get people organised. At kick-off we'll stand here, there or there, at line-out they attack here and here, they use these line-out options. At scrum time this is what they do.
"By the time you split into those units, we had 12 minutes together as a team.
"Talk about developing a style? It can be a little bit of a moot point, particularly in a week like this with new personnel coming in."
Ireland: R Kearney; A Trimble, J Payne, R Henshaw, D Kearney; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best (capt), N White; D Toner, M McCarthy; CJ Stander, S O'Brien, J Heaslip. Replacements: R Strauss, J Cronin, T Furlong, D Ryan, T O'Donnell, E Reddan, I Madigan, F McFadden.