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Ireland World Cup squad gamble could backfire on Joe Schmidt

By Tony Ward

Joe Schmidt often goes with his gut instinct, and the Ireland coach has certainly done that with his World Cup squad.

Schmidt is a pretty shrewd operator who has done almost everything right since taking control. So there is method to his madness, but very definitely the possibility for madness there.

I have to say, I don't understand the thought process behind including just two scrum-halves yet three specialist tighthead props - especially as there are question marks over the fitness of one of the two looseheads, Cian Healy.

I don't get the thinking with the props, not unless he is sure that one of his back-up tightheads, Nathan White or Tadhg Furlong - two rookies at this level - can fill in at loosehead if needed.

The assumption had been that Michael Bent, who can play on both sides, would make the cut.

Schmidt is something of a contradiction; he's a stickler for detail, yet at critical times is willing to go with instinct.

I have major concerns about these calls. It appears that we are putting our hopes in the laps of the gods.

I get the rationale behind having just two specialist scrum-halves and two specialist out-halves with another - Ian Madigan - covering just about every position from nine to 15.

I hope I am wrong but this is a gamble that could come back to bite us.

A World Cup brings a different type of pressure to Six Nations or autumn internationals.

As a utility back, it is difficult enough covering positions in which you are less familiar, but regardless of how things have gone in training, being asked to play in a position totally alien to you is a huge ask, even for an exceptionally versatile footballer like Madigan.

The parallel with the Wallabies and Matt Giteau, or indeed the French were they to try the same with Freddie Michalak, doesn't hold - Giteau and Michalak have played scrum-half at the highest level.

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said the risk of naming just two specialist scrum-halves wasn't worth the reward.

Beyond that the real losers are Andrew Trimble and Felix Jones, with Dave Kearney and Simon Zebo providing cover for full-back Rob Kearney as well as the wings. And despite going into last Saturday's game apparently in pole position to make the cut, Luke Fitzgerald and Keith Earls will breathe a sigh of relief.

Paddy Jackson too raised more questions than answers in his final quarter against the Welsh but I do support his selection as the back-up cover to Jonathan Sexton.

Darren Cave too is an undoubted winner and the main beneficiary of Isaac Boss' demotion. And Tommy Bowe deserves his place, although I do feel sorry for Trimble.

The rest of the squad effectively picked itself.

One lesson learned from the warm-ups to date is that Iain Henderson is ready to start.

I suspect Devin Toner is marginally ahead in Schmidt's mind as Paul O'Connell's second-row partner, but come the Pool finale against the French that mindset may well have changed.

Toner is going to have to play out of his skin to keep Henderson at bay. The die has been cast, the cut made and not without some very strange selections.

No-one can legislate for injury, but at loosehead and scrum-half we're hovering very close to the fire.

I hope we don't get burnt.

Belfast Telegraph


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