Schmidt confident despite late Henshaw blow
Despite back-to-back defeats by Wales and England in their final warm-up games, Joe Schmidt believes his Ireland squad are in good shape to face Canada in their opening World Cup Pool D match in Cardiff tomorrow.
Ireland’s head coach yesterday named close to a full-strength team, with centre Robbie Henshaw the only major absentee. The Connacht player, who established himself as first-choice inside centre during this year’s victorious Six Nations campaign, strained a hamstring on Tuesday and has been replaced by Luke Fitzgerald.
Schmidt described Henshaw’s absence as an inconvenience, coming so late in the day, but he said that he was delighted to be able to name the British and Irish Lions prop Cian Healy, making his longawaited return from neck surgery, on the bench.
Jack McGrath will start at loosehead but Healy, one of Ireland’s key players when fit, will certainly come on at some stage. Otherwise, Schmidt has gone with arguably his strongest team possible, preferring Iain Henderson to Devin Toner in the second row alongside captain Paul O’Connell.
“We felt that was the best combination,” Schmidt said, describing Henderson, 23, as a “force of nature” who had impressed with his recent displays, particularly his speed around the pitch.
Schmidt was in relaxed mood at Ireland’s base at the Cardiff Marriott, although he said his team would not be underestimating Canada, who he described as a solid unit. “One of the things that has really impressed us is how many phases they can defend through,” he said. “We just know that we’re going to work hard for the points that we get.
“We’d have a degree of confidence around our set-piece. We do feel our scrum is operating really well. Our line-out has been operating really well and those are areas that are really good access points for us into the game.”
Schmidt said the defeats by Wales and England had raised one concern. “Our defence hasn’t been as good as it needs to be,” he said. “But we conceded three tries across the five games [in the Six Nations] and I think the Six Nations before that we conceded four tries and scored 16, so I don’t think that it suddenly turned bad. I think the systems are good.”
O’Connell, who is retiring after the tournament, said he was looking forward to his fourth World Cup. “I’m massively excited,” he said. “Probably even more than I was for the first one [in 2003], because I know it’s the last one.”
All smiles: Joe Schmidt was delighted to be able to name Cian Healy on the bench for Ireland’s opener in Cardiff