Sch­midt con­fi­dent de­spite late Hen­shaw blow

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Sport Rugby World Cup 2015 - By Tom Cary in Cardiff

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

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