Joe Schmidt knows what he’s going to get out of Rob Kearney, who’ll start ahead of Jordan Larmour against New Zealand. Rob has a played a lot during Schmidt’s regime and Larmour doesn’t have as much experience, which is something Joe would see as a factor in his decision.
I doubt that Ireland will want this to be an open game, because New Zealand will be much more dangerous in that type of scenario. So Joe has stuck to his tried and tested players: he doesn’t vary his selection much when it comes to big matches.
But I wouldn’t say it’s a negative selection to start Rob at 15. Everyone is picked to do a job and, considering the way Ireland plan on addressing the game, the players selected are there to carry out the job description.
If we were going to play a more expansive style, then you’d prefer to see lads with attacking prowess like Jordan involved. There are also the likes of Andrew Conway and Chris Farrell who thrive in that environment, but Joe has picked the team to do the job he wants done.
Chris Farrell and Andrew Conway deserved to be in the side
I don’t know whether or not Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose are Ireland’s best centre partnership.
Having played with Chris Farrell and knowing what he’s capable of, if I was picking Ireland’s best XV I’d be starting him in the centre. His size, his speed and his handling ability are second to none, so I’m surprised he wasn’t picked even on the bench.
Joe really likes Robbie as a player and if Farrell wanted to play regularly under Schmidt he may have had to adapt his game. Henshaw hasn’t been involved much recently due to injury and Chris seemed to be hitting his straps – he’s taken every Ireland opportunity with both hands and will be very disappointed to miss out. He deserves to be in there on merit.
In Larmour, Joey Carbery and Luke McGrath, Ireland have an attacking trio of backs on the bench. It’s a nice weapon to have when you’ve got an arsenal of talented players to come on when teams get tired after 60 minutes. They’re players who’ll impact the game rapidly so they’re the best options for Joe to bring on.
But I would have liked to see Andrew Conway in there. He has been excellent in this World Cup, so as with Farrell it’s surprising not to see him involved. I probably would have started him.
Going on form, Conway has to be in the team. But there are obviously other selection criteria that don’t simply rely on form. Like Farrell, that’ll be another disappointed player.
So what do we actually have to do to win?
Regardless of selection, it’ll be very difficult for Ireland on Saturday. New Zealand will know what’s coming and will be prepared. They’ve had two weeks to plan for this game so they’ll be geared up.
The All Blacks have beaten South Africa and put up cricket scores on the rest. They’ll be hugely dangerous, but the Irish lads are well-equipped for big, one-off performances where you go out and catch the opposition off guard.
Ireland will be confident going in as the underdogs, knowing anything can happen in knockout rugby. They can win, but even though my heart says Ireland, my head says New Zealand.
Schmidt will judge his Ireland reign based on what happens in World Cups
When people look back on Joe’s time as Ireland head coach, they’ll remember some great times and a successful period in Irish rugby. We’ve had a great generation of players and he has come in and put his stamp on things – and won trophies while doing so.
Those are the positives, but other coaches, like Declan Kidney and Warren Gatland, have achieved similar things with the team. International coaches would probably be more inclined to judge themselves on World Cup performances.
So Joe will likely judge himself on what happens in Japan – and what happened in 2015 – and he has a chance against New Zealand to right some wrongs. But if we don’t get past the quarter-finals with this group of players we have, it will definitely be a disappointment.