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Ireland's coach is now on a wing and a prayer


Key man: Tommy Bowe

Key man: Tommy Bowe

©INPHO/Presseye/William Cherry

Ulster’s Paddy Jackson

Ulster’s Paddy Jackson

©INPHO/Presseye/Russell Pritcha


Key man: Tommy Bowe

Joe Schmidt will meet the media today as a coach whose stock is soaring but who knows the market well enough to respect grim tidings.

Delivering a trophy every season since touching down in this country has given the Ireland supremo plenty of leeway as he ponders the pre-World Cup landscape but he has never been one to rest on his laurels.

Ideally, he wants to build on becoming Europe's top team in 2014 by adding a significant scalp from the southern hemisphere, particularly after a frustrating tour to Argentina that sucked much of the momentum from the season.

He gave a host of front-liners the summer off with their well-being in mind but must wonder what the point was when he gets his squad back in this condition. The modern game is an unforgiving beast with little regard for best laid plans.

Losing Ulster's Andrew Trimble is the latest in a series of blows the Ireland coach has had to endure.

It seems almost inevitable that by the time he assembles his squad at Carton House next Tuesday he'll be forced to add another name to the list of 15 he couldn't call on already as a second week of European action takes its toll.

Given the team that came within seconds of beating the All Blacks formed the basis of his starting XV for the rest of the season, the biggest blows are undoubtedly Sean O'Brien and Cian Healy, but it is the lack of depth in certain positions that will worry Schmidt as much.

Tommy Bowe will come in for Ulster colleague Trimble and Simon Zebo looks primed to take over from Dave Kearney, but Ulster's Craig Gilroy is the only other winger in the squad meaning another injury would require a re-shuffle in a panel of 37 that includes five players who can play full-back outside of that trio of wings.

That number may suggest concern over the condition of Rob Kearney's back after the Lion missed last Sunday's meeting with Wasps. The presence of Felix Jones, Darragh Leader and Jared Payne indicates the need for cover.

Payne, of course, is ready to do battle for the vacant No 13 jersey with Robbie Henshaw, while Stuart Olding comes in despite losing his Ulster place to Stuart McCloskey recently and will vie for the inside centre berth with Gordon D'Arcy.

Another area of concern will be the second-row where Paul O'Connell and Devin Toner are still standing, but a host of others have fallen. Mike McCarthy makes it despite some suspect form for Leinster, while Munster uncapped tyro Dave Foley gets the nod ahead of Connacht's Mick Kearney.

Up front, Kiwi Nathan White is likely to make his debut at 33, while Stephen Archer gets the nod ahead of Declan Fitzpatrick, while Rodney Ah You's presence is something of a shock given how far out of his depth he looked in June.

In the back-row, Robbie Diack and Rhys Ruddock are rewarded for their end of season tour performances, while Dominic Ryan is the surprise inclusion after a strong start to the season.

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Whether they can unsettle the Six Nations winning back-row of Peter O'Mahony, Chris Henry and Jamie Heaslip remains to be seen.

The biggest surprise behind the scrum sees Ulster's Paddy Jackson dropped from second to fourth choice fly-half as Ian Keatley makes it.

The Ulster No 10 made the cut for the Argentina tour ahead of both of his rivals, but cried off with a back injury. Madigan impressed in his place, while Keatley did well on the Emerging tour of Romania and has started the season well.

Still, the key man remains Johnny Sexton who returned for action in fine fettle for French side Racing Metro last weekend.

Of all 37, he's the one Schmidt can least afford to lose as he looks to build despite narrowing options.

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