DUBLIN (Reuters) - A number of Ireland’s fringe players will get a chance to seal a World Cup place following their warm-up match against Wales on Saturday which coach Joe Schmidt billed as a “character test” after last weekend’s dismal defeat to England.
Less than a year after a first ever home victory over New Zealand raised World Cup expectations to fever pitch, Ireland’s 57-15 rout left their coach bemoaning a “malaise” about his team just four weeks before the tournament begins in Japan.
While Schmidt said he always planned to ring in the changes regardless of the Twickenham thrashing, the defeat was still on his mind as he expressed confidence his team would be “very much a step ahead” this time.
“If I’m to be frank, some of those players weren’t thinking about last weekend, they were thinking about making sure they were on the plane (to Japan). You can’t afford to look after yourself and afford to be behind the game like we were last week,” the New Zealander told a news conference.
“I do think we took our eye off the ball. I think we were not quite up for the game as we should have been and we were a bit heavy legged. Sometimes that’s a bit of a character test, can you get over that and still deliver.”
After watching a near full strength side miss 34 tackles against a far superior England, Schmidt hands the versatile Will Addison a first warm-up appearance with Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell and Kieran Marmion getting another chance inside him.
With Johnny Sexton rested again and Joey Carbery still out but winning his fitness battle for the opener against Scotland next month, Connacht’s Jack Carty starts and will seek to claim a potential spot as a third flyhalf on the plane.
However with no flyhalf on the bench, Schmidt mentioned Addison and Garry Ringrose as unconventional options there, raising the possibility that he could travel with just two recognised number 10s if Carbery is fit enough.
Tadhg Beirne gets his first start at flanker, shifting captain for the day Peter O’Mahony to the openside with Jack Conan coming in to complete the back row where Ireland were completely outclassed last week.
Elsewhere, first choice lock James Ryan gets his first run out of the pre-World Cup games against a Welsh side that will feature 14 changes to the squad that beat England 13-6 earlier this month.
15-Will Addison, 14-Andrew Conway, 13-Chris Farrell, 12-Bundee Aki, 11-Jacob Stockdale, 10-Jack Carty, 9-Kieran Marmion, 8-Jack Conan, 7-Peter O’Mahony (captain), 6-Tadhg Beirne, 5-James Ryan, 4-Iain Henderson, 3-John Ryan, 2-Niall Scannell, 1-Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16-Rory Best, 17-Andrew Porter, 18-Tadhg Furlong, 19-Devin Toner, 20-Jordi Murphy, 21-Luke McGrath, 22-Garry Ringrose, 23-Dave Kearney
Reporting by Padraic Halpin, editing by Pritha Sarkar