RBS 6 Nations: Joe Schmidt goes full tilt with show of strength
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has pretty much declared what he considers to be his strongest team.
His line-up to face Wales, the defending Six Nations champions, tomorrow afternoon in Dublin tells the tale, for bar the absence of injured 2013 British & Irish Lions Test duo Tommy Bowe and Sean O'Brien, whose places have gone to Andrew Trimble and Chris Henry, this is the same starting line-up that ran the All Blacks so close in November.
That means Ulster duo Dan Tuohy and Luke Marshall are omitted from the side which beat Scotland last weekend, with fit-again captain Paul O'Connell and Gordon D'Arcy taking their places in the second row and at inside centre respectively.
Other than that Schmidt has given a thumbs up to those who beat Scotland 28-6, though O'Connell's restoration means Tuohy returning to the bench and his Ulster colleague Iain Henderson returning to Belfast.
Schmidt and his Welsh counterpart and fellow-countryman, Warren Gatland, have crossed swords as players and coaches, but never before have they faced one another at international level.
"I think I played a game with him. I've played against him, I've coached against him," Schmidt smiled.
"He was with the Chiefs one of the years I was with the Blues, coaching Super Rugby, so we know each other from playing days and from coaching.
"I've no doubt that he knows a fair bit about what I do and I know a fair bit about what he does as well."
Referring to Gatland's role with last summer's Lions, he said: "Obviously, he's just coached, to varying degrees, about 10 of our lads.
"Some of them got injured and didn't have a lot of time on tour, others spent a lot of time on tour with him. They give insights into how he's thinking and what he's developing.
"Then, I suppose, you get that double jeopardy where you start to think, 'Well, he knows we might do this or we might do that' when we've had a half-hour session and a one-hour session this week.
"I don't think we're going to do a lot different to what we did this week because you can't afford to get too complicated."
With Ireland having played Scotland on Sunday, the six-day turn-around has meant very little time on the training paddock. Rest and recovery has been their priority this week. Given the circumstances, Schmidt admitted he had given serious consideration to the possibility of making more than just two changes.
"There were two or three other positions that we thought about and, in the end, guys bounced back on Tuesday and we made a decision," he said.
"It was a continuity versus freshness decision – and the way they bounced back fresh enough in the half-hour run was good just to determine how fresh they were.
"We decided to limit the changes just to having Paul back in the side and making that one change where, of the guys who weren't as fresh, Luke Marshall was struggling with the knocks he had during the (Scotland) game."
Having had such limited preparation, Ireland have not had a chance to work on anything radical.
"We've kept a lot of the same stuff so we'd be looking to just get some continuity through that."