GETTING TO know the new man in charge may not be so tough after many of the Ireland squad got to chat with Joe Schmidt during the tour to North America in the summer, but the coach has given himself no excuses for not knowing what he has to work with by naming an extended squad for a meeting at the end of the week.
The headline is the Brian O’Driscoll has made the 42-man group that will meet at Carlton House on Sunday, as part of preparations for games against Samoa on November 9, Australia on the 16th and the All Blacks on the 24th. However there are also 41 other players involved, some others missing out because of injury and some they are still monitoring outside of the camp.
There have been calls for changes to the Irish national side over the last few years and the choice of Schmidt as head coach was seen as a positive move. In order to put his stamp on the side, though, he must work through a lot of sessions, meetings and analysis in order to plump for a team he likes, before going through the arduous task of getting them to play the distinctive brand of attacking rugby we are used to seeing from the Kiwi’s teams.
Moulding a team takes time, so these sessions may not be as easy as one would expect and there could be some cramming for those involved. O’Driscoll is there to ease transition, having become an integral part of a Schmidt system in Leinster. It is officially the great centre’s last season in the game and he will want to leave behind something workable, if not quite beautiful yet.
The good thing for the new set-up is that there are enough promising young talents in this first squad meeting and the head coach must be slightly excited by the prospect of making one of them an international star. Nevertheless that comes after he starts handing out hymn sheets for them all to try and sing from.
Talking of his squad, Schmidt said: “Selection was difficult as it’s the first time we have had to narrow our focus a bit and determine a cut off point for players. A number of selections were very tight, which is positive.
“The group is predominantly ‘tried and proven’ but with some newer faces as well. It’s an opportunity to get to know the players as well as an opportunity to have a look ahead and start to get a little bit of organization done for the series.
“There are a number of players such as Tommy O’Donnell, Michael Bent, Stuart Olding, Andrew Trimble, Craig Gilroy and Felix Jones that were not considered due to injury but some of these players may well be involved in the autumn as they return to full fitness and resume playing.
“There are also a few players who have not yet had many opportunities to make an impression and a few youngsters who have been impressive in the early rounds of the Pro 12 that we’ve left to keep working with their provinces. There is no doubting the challenge that autumn presents but we’re looking forward to get a little bit of a head start this weekend.”
Forwards: Stephen Archer, Rory Best, James Coughlan, Sean Cronin, Declan Fitzpatrick, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Shane Jennings, David Kilcoyne, Mike McCarthy, Jack McGrath, Sean O’Brien, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony, Mike Ross, Donnacha Ryan, Mike Sherry, Richardt Strauss, Devin Toner, Dan Tuohy.
Backs: Isaac Boss, Tommy Bowe, Gordon D’Arcy, Keith Earls, Luke Fitzgerald, Robbie Henshaw, Paddy Jackson, Rob Kearney, Dave Kearney, Ian Madigan, Luke Marshall, Fergus McFadden, Kevin McLaughlin, Niall Morris, Conor Murray, Brian O’Driscoll, Eoin Reddan, Jonathan Sexton, Simon Zebo.