There is no 'internal noise' over Rory Best, says Ireland coach Joe Schmidt
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has rubbished magnified scrutiny over Rory Best's position after Saturday's record defeat to England.
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On the platform of a malfunctioning line-out, there had been particular focus given to the Ireland captain's performance in the 57-15 loss at Twickenham.
The magnitude of the result, with now under one month to go until their World Cup opener against Scotland, was evident by the very nature of Schmidt's presence at the Tuesday press conference.
The head coach normally reserves himself for Thursday squad announcements to address the media between back-to-back fixtures but was on hand at Carton House to say the Best's display is not up for special debate after that was, across the board, a performance 'beneath' the levels expected.
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"To be honest, if there is external noise of that nature then there is no internal noise of that nature," he said regarding Best.
"Probably for Rory, it's that internal noise that it most relevant because that's where decisions are going to be made. At this stage, there are no decisions that are being made in that direction.
"There are guys who are going to get an opportunity this weekend (away to Wales) and if they perform better than any other player that played last weekend, there is always a contest.
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"You've got to keep that contest alive. We've seen that in other teams. You saw an All Black team get beaten 47-26 and come out and win 36-0 with a number of changes where established players were left out and new, fresh players came in and put them under pressure. Players will be conscious of that."
Ireland's eye-catching loss is the lowest point of a, to date, disappointing 2019 that also brought chastening defeats to England and Wales in the Six Nations.
Little wonder concerns are now growing over Ireland's World Cup prospects.
"It's an unacceptable result for us, a performance beneath where we need to be," Schmidt conceded.
"The whole group are very conscious that we have a short period of time to make sure we accelerate what is part of a progression.
"We did try to have a very vigorous pre-season, we tried to taper a little bit at the end of the week but we looked flat, we looked slow, we were inaccurate and we didn't adjust when we were getting troubled.
"Nothing mitigates losing the way we did. We've tried to periodise our lead-in to the World Cup. At this time of the cycle every four years, you get some imbalanced results because different teams are in different stages."
On a more positive note, Schmidt gave some encouraging injury updates on Cian Healy and Conor Murray.
"Cian was involved in the first game and the second game, and he probably wasn’t on the radar for this game anyway," he stated.
"We are probably just going to stick with that plan anyway.
"He is unlikely to play this Saturday and will play the Saturday after.
"I would be gobsmacked if he is not available for that because this weekend is something that we could look at with Cian."
It looks like Murray will sit the next one out, despite looking in need of game time.
"Our initial plan for Conor was to only play two games before we go," said Schmidt.
"Last weekend and, potentially, the final game of the lead-in. We will make a decision on that.
"He passed his HIA 1 at the time, he passed his HIA 2 post-match and, the following day, he passed his HIA 3, which means according to the protocols there was no concussion.
"He did cop an elbow to the side of the face as he came across and dropped into the tackle, just as Jonny May’s elbow came up.
"Those sorts of things happen. He bounced up and was fine and trained fine today."
Schmidt was reluctant to concede Jonathan Sexton had suffered a second injury on top of his thumb problem.
"He is very keen to be involved this weekend, but we are not going to be silly about that.
"If we don’t think he is 100 per cent and ready then he won’t be involved this weekend.
"No, he doesn’t have a leg injury per se, He’s got a bit of stiffness and soreness.
"If we wanted to pick him this weekend, we could pick him. If you had seen him out there and how hard he was running, it’s a progression for him."
Keith Earls is chomping at the bit to get going. Unfortunately, the veteran wing is suffering from a touch of "tendonitis."
"It is really frustrating for him. It’s just niggling away more than anything else.
"We have tried to get any inflammation out of that by not pushing him. He’s a player who we know plays really well fresh. It is about playing the long game with Keith and making sure that he is 100 per cent ready to go.
"I know that he will be ready for the weekend after this one. I doubt whether he will be involved this weekend."
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