Ireland injuries mean Schmidt should look to future for rest of Six Nations
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | February 20, 2016
As one Irish website astutely observed in the week off between Six Nations matches, Joe Schmidt has a staggering 15 players either injured and missing or doubtful for the trip to Twickenham on Saturday, February 27th.
Ireland’s injury crisis is deep indeed, so it’s no wonder they have made a winless start to their defence of the title and that bid to win three consecutive championships hangs by the merest thread.
Once as short as 11/4 to retain the Six Nations, Coral dramatically lengthened Irish outright odds from 9/2 to 40/1, after falling to physical France by a single point. Read more about what we’ve learned from this year’s championship so far.
A season-ending concussion for lock Mike McCarthy, flanker Sean O’Brien tearing his hamstring and winger Dave Kearney’s shoulder joint problem are just the tip of this injury iceberg, as Ireland paid the price in Paris.
It might be a more salient point to ask who is fit for international duty. Couple so many on the treatment table with a poor recent record against England and at Twickenham, and this campaign could already be arguably called a write-off for Schmidt.
Is age a factor for walking wounded?
Mature and experienced or old and injury-prone? Much has been made about the age of this Irish team.
Does it take something as extreme as having so many players sidelined to make Schmidt see he’s allowed a dual Six Nations winning vintage to go on too long?
The average age of that 15-strong injured or doubtful contingent is 28.6, with half a dozen in the 30 and over bracket.
Rugby is a contact sport, though, and getting hurt is an occupational hazard that doesn’t discriminate among professionals when it comes to how old you are. Age comes into it only because recovery times become longer.
Nature of the beast
What are the injury issues facing Ireland, then? Veteran prop Mike Ross and uncapped Marty Moore, join lock Iain Henderson, and centre Jared Payne join O’Brien in sustaining hamstring problems of various severity.
A further five are nobbled because of knee injuries, with ligament damage a common thread for winger trio Tommy Bowe, Luke Fitzgerald and Simon Zebo, as well as back row operator Peter O’Mahony and prop Cian Healy.
Moving away from Irish players’ lower limbs, remaining problems either stem from making tackles or taking them high. Like McCarthy, utility back Keith Earls is recovering from concussion; while Chris Henry has been struggling with his shoulder alongside Kearney.
That just leaves injury-prone kicker Johnny Sexton, who has twice been forced off in the 2016 Six Nations outings to date, with Ian Madigan willingly deputising at fly half.
Every crisis is an opportunity
Spurred on by necessity, that mother of invention, Schmidt has pledged to blood more uncapped members of his roster in the coming weeks.
“I think you will see guys over the next three games that you probably haven’t seen in the tournament so far,” Ireland’s head coach said.
“We haven’t been in this position where mathematically we have a chance, but realistically the chance is a long shot, and where we actually get a window of opportunity to maybe blood a few new guys and chase results at the same time.”
Centre Stuart McCloskey looks the most likely to play some part against England in midfield, if things don’t abate on the injury front for the Irish before the game.
CJ Stander, meanwhile, should continue to have back row involvement because of how few fit forwards are at Ireland’s disposal.
Schmidt must see what flanker Josh van der Flier and Connacht couple Ultan Dillane (lock) and Finlay Belham (prop) can do before this Six Nations campaign is done, if they are to be part of the Irish future.
Pegged as 9/4 outsiders for only a second win at Twickenham since 2006, Ireland have it all to do to address a slide of five defeats in six against England, and their second string may be found wanting.