Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Schmidt must weigh up the balance in quest for success

By Tony Ward

Those of a more mature vintage will recall the legendary song and album 'A Question of Balance'. I don't know if Joe Schmidt is a Moody Blues fan but either way the title will resonate with him, even more so now than before this three-Test series kicked off.

Even with our full-strength team - as in the 15 who ran on against England in Twickenham on Paddy's Day - this was going to be a challenge of a different dimension.

Skipper Peter O'Mahony - who had his best game in green this year in Brisbane - caught it in one when he described Saturday's Test as being one of the quickest and most physical he can recall.

That is as it has always been. Matches against the Wallabies, whether Down Under, up above or on any neutral patch, are laced with speed and physicality.

Add in the unique situation of a squad and game in crisis set to take on the Grand Slam champions in a three-Test series for the first time and this was a ticking time bomb set to explode.

Of course, Schmidt could have gone down the conservative route and added another victory to that 12-match winning run.

Instead, he chose to go the experimental way in search of that vital experience essential for next year's World Cup for players gifted with the ability but lacking in the knowledge essential to survive against Tier 1 opposition.

Does winning the next two matches and by extension the three-Test series matter? Of course it does, but ultimately it is a Question of Balance, and here I support the head honcho all the way.

I confess that I had thought he would take the conservative path and stay with the tried and trusted but to what end?

Even if further defeats are to follow in Melbourne and Sydney, the Lansdowne Cup pales into insignificance when measured against the strengthening of the squad ahead of Japan 2019 and the compilation of information this essential tour entails.

Did Schmidt get the balance right at Suncorp? Clearly, the answer to that is no, as the better team won, and they weren't wearing green.

Michael Cheika's charges deserved the win. They had done their homework and they attacked Ireland with great energy, particularly when without the ball.

The targeting of our wraparound runners was top notch save for one time in the first half when Jacob Stockdale managed the intrusion to set Keith Earls in space up the right.

Beyond that, it was the arm wrestle we expected it would be with David Pocock and Michael Hooper fully justifying the 'Pooper' selection aimed specifically at the breakdown where Dan Leavy's absence was marked.

Ultimately defence still wins matches and here it certainly did.

The need for Leavy and possibly Tadhg Beirne on the bench must be at the top of the balancing agenda for next week.

The out-half issue is still unresolved in so far as Joey Carbery still needs as much game time at this level as Schmidt can afford to give. He did well, but still looks what he is: a rookie learning as he goes. He does not have the calming presence of a Sexton in crisis time. But how could he? I do not envy Schmidt and his call at No 10 for Melbourne.

I would go with Sexton in order to keep the series alive, which will then add appreciably to the collective experience going into a decider in Sydney.

Beyond that words almost fail me when analysing James Ryan. He may have lost his first ever game as a professional but what a show.

Much will depend on how he goes in terms of injury but at this embryonic stage there is definitely another Paul O'Connell in our midst.

He is a natural leader, at just 21. Great players, irrespective of position, seem to have a magnet attached to them. Wherever the ball so too is Ryan.

The Wallaby physicality, particularly when targeting the halves, paid dividends, with Conor Murray regularly on the receiving end.

So too, in the centre, with Bundee Aki the most obvious victim of isolation. I would like to see Robbie Henshaw at No 12 and Garry Ringrose alongside in the outer channel for Saturday.

That said, and while there is no need for panic, in a sense the cat is already among the pigeons.

Given the guaranteed Wallaby physicality set to be repeated allied to the versatility in the Ireland backs, a very strong case could and I believe should be made for a six/two split on the bench, leaving just a specialist scrum-half to cover Murray and Carbery to cover the rest of the backline.

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph