What comes next for Ireland is key for their World Cup development and this is the part where coaches prove their worth.
The easier part as a coach is coaching what’s in front of you with the best team available and using all of your preferred strategies to ensure you get the win.
Preparing a team when possibly trying not to show your hand to the rest of world rugby is a lot tougher but it’s usually one of Joe Schmidt’s strengths.
The other side of this is developing talent and having the foresight to manage players' game time, keeping in mind what’s coming down the tracks.
It’s difficult to know what way Schmidt will manage it. He needs to win matches and allow key players to get more game time while also developing his squad. There’s not much point in bringing all these players to camps and World Cups if you’re not going to be able to use them.
I don’t think everyone will get a run out in this Six Nations, that’s quite hard to manage but there are some players that need to be given a chance and other players that probably don’t need the game to manage their own bumps and bruises and longevity this season.
Conor Murray could benefit from starting another game after his time on the sideline before Christmas. You could see his frustration when scoring the opening try against Scotland. I don’t think that frustration was solely coming from losing to England .
He is arguably the world’s best scrum half in recent years and the temptation is to mind him but I think he needs to start the game and find his rhythm a bit more. John Cooney has certainly earned a chance with his form up north and I would suggest that he’d get a solid 30 minutes, but Conor Murray is the priority.
Sean O’Brien is another guy that could do with playing some international rugby so I would keep him in the team as well, possibly at 6 with Jack Conan at 8 and Josh van Der Flier at 7.
Rhys Ruddock’s hamstring injury might make that an easier decision for Schmidt. With Dan Leavy also out of contention because of an ongoing calf strain, we could see Jordi Murphy return to the match-day squad.
It’s a game that Peter O'Mahony could sit out to allow others to get opportunities and to ensure he stays fit for the entire season with Champions Cup knock-out stages coming up after the Six Nations.
The front row will depend on how many changes Schmidt and his team will make elsewhere. He might want to keep his captain to manage others through the game but I think Niall Scannell and Sean Cronin should both see some game time. Scannell is set to be Ireland’s next long term hooker so I’d like to see him start in Italy.
James Ryan should retain his position in the second row. He is fast becoming one of Ireland’s most important players and hopefully he will be joined by Iain Henderson, depending on a disciplinary hearing this week.
Henderson needs game time and Ireland need him back to start winning the gain line again and making the half backs jobs easier around the pitch by playing on the front foot. Ireland have been missing that in the last few weeks and I’m sure James Ryan would welcome Henderson back to share that responsibility.
The squad is so strong when there are no injury concerns that it’s hard to select a back three and a centre partnership. However, with Garry Ringrose still recovering from a hamstring injury, positions are up for grabs.
Robbie Henshaw is key to the Irish go forward ball and will feel a lot more at home in the middle of the pitch. Tom Farrell continues to put his hand up for Connacht but with the strength in depth in centres he might miss out on this opportunity.
Joey Carbery deserves his shot in the starting position after seeing Ireland home last week with great vision to pick out Keith Earls. His game management will keep improving the more he can start international matches but will need to be on top form for a sticky encounter with Italy.
We saw that Wales went to Rome with a number of changes and had to grind out a result. Managing the game early on is key and therefore not allowing Italy to grow into it in front of their home fans.
Johnny Sexton’s concussion woes will keep him out of this one which will result in Jack Carty getting his first involvement in the match-day 23. I’m still surprised that Schmidt hasn’t gone with Ross Byrne but he is putting a lot of emphasis on being in a starting position at your club to get into the Irish camp.
Kearney and Stockdale should keep their positions in the back three. Kearney is another experienced player that could do with game time.
I doubt any players want to be rested from International games when there are caps on the line and they want to hang on to their spot but Keith Earls has had a lot of involvement in the opening two encounters, especially the England match and I’d be inclined to give Larmour another opportunity.
Managing players is one of the toughest parts of being a coach. As an assistant coach in Cork Con it’s not my responsibility to pick the team but your opinion is taken on board.
Leaving some guys out and having the foresight to see what’s coming down the line is something that you learn with more experience but speaking to other coaches I don’t think it ever gets easier.
As a player you are taught to question everything respectfully but you need to keep yourself in the coaches mind without overstepping the mark. If you’re not in the coaches thoughts it is a lot easier to be left out.
It’s much easier to have that difficult conversation as a player, as frustrating as it might be to hear the truth. As a coach sometimes there are no answers for the players other than your instincts and what you feel is right at the time.
It doesn’t make it any easier to communicate that to players but you have to try to leave the emotion to one side and do what’s best for the team.
Players won’t see what’s best for everyone. They are somewhat blinkered and territorial over their position, and rightly so. If they were happy to give it up too easy there would be something wrong with their mentality, unless they really need the break physically.
It doesn’t matter how experienced you are, you never want another player to have a good game in your jersey. Those that say otherwise are more than likely lying. Sport is fickle. One or two good games and someone that you didn’t see as a threat all of a sudden becomes quite popular and gains momentum in the media and supporters.
We’ll have to wait until Friday for confirmation of how this one will play out but even with Italy’s poor form it will still be tough in Rome.
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