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Schmidt rejects rumours linking him to the England job

By Jonathan Bradley

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt yesterday moved to distance himself from reports stating that he is in line to become England boss after the World Cup.

Stuart Lancaster is under fire after failing to lead the host nation into the quarter-finals but Schmidt was quick to downplay rumours emanating from France that he is the man targeted by the RFU as a replacement.

"I don't know where that's come from at all," the Kiwi said yesterday as he announced his team to face Argentina in the last-eight tomorrow.

"Externally I'd be a fan of Stuart Lancaster as a person and what he is trying to build there."

Schmidt, who is contracted to the IRFU until 2017 after signing an extension before the World Cup, even suggested that had results not gone his way in this tournament then it would have been his head on the chopping block.

"If we'd lost last weekend it could be someone else being propositioned for my job," he continued.

"Stuart is a first-class character. I certainly wouldn't be going after his job."

The man looking to guide Ireland to their first ever World Cup semi-final also rejected the notion that he is taking a risk by fielding Jonathan Sexton in tomorrow's Millennium Stadium clash.

The key play-maker suffered a groin injury in last weekend's win over France and lasted just 25 minutes of the contest which set-up tomorrow's meeting with the Pumas.

Even with Ian Madigan performing well off the bench against Les Bleus, there was huge concern surrounding the 30-year-old's availability all week, but Schmidt insisted that his inclusion is no gamble.

"If he's fit, he's fit," he said. "We don't tend to take too many risks with injured players but there are always risks in everything you do. We've allowed him to build his way back into the week.

"He had a fairly light start to the week but trained fully in the Millennium Stadium (yesterday).

"He kicked, he did the kick-offs, he did everything that was required of an abductor.

"We'd be very confident that he'll be ready to go.

"It's been a very light training week, we've got a few guys carrying bumps and bruises but we've got 48 more hours to freshen and be ready to go on Sunday."

With Keith Earls also fit, Paul O'Connell and Peter O'Mahony injured, and Sean O'Brien banned, the rest of Schmidt's team was as expected with four Ulstermen in the starting side.

Rory Best and Tommy Bowe are at hooker and right wing respectively while both Iain Henderson and Chris Henry have been promoted into the first XV after impressing off the bench last week.

Henry will fill the No.7 jersey vacated by O'Brien, just as he did for the 2014 Six Nations, while Henderson comes back into the second-row in the absence of O'Connell.

Schmidt resisted the temptation to use the 23-year-old in the back-row in place of O'Mahony - a position Henderson has said in the past he prefers - and will instead opt for Leinster's Jordi Murphy as his openside flanker.

"Jordi has started Six Nations matches for us, he's played six before and he can also operate across the back-row," explained the former Leinster coach.

"We felt this was probably his best position having rehearsed running in that position more often than anyone else.

"We did think about putting Iain Henderson there and putting Donnacha Ryan in at lock and that may still happen during the game.

"But we felt Iain Henderson added a little more ballast to our tight five because the back five of the scrum had lost a lot of experience.

"Irish teams have been really well prepared in the past and not got over the line (at this stage of the competition).

"I guess the group have demonstrated that in adversity they can respond and there's something in the Irish psyche that if you are beaten around then there's a resilience and resolve. Hopefully that shows."

Belfast Telegraph


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