The Irish coach, who will officially declare his hand on Thursday lunchtime before his squad travel to the Welsh capital, is pondering whether to change things hugely up in the wake of last weekend’s humiliating 57-15 defeat to England in London.
Records tumbled in that brutal eight-try loss and Schmidt – a coach only ever beaten 18 times in 69 outings since taking charge in 2013 – will now likely roll the dice and could give as many as five Munster players a start in his starting pack.
The New Zealander will be hoping that a smattering of his more experienced players can carry what is expected to be a largely a second-string XV over the line against the Welsh, who beat them comfortably when the countries last faced off in the Six Nations Grand Slam game last March.
Ireland’s four survivors from the XV that started the now infamous disaster at Twickenham last weekend are likely to be Iain Henderson, Peter O’Mahony, Jacob Stockdale and Bundee Aki, a quartet whose individual performances in London came nowhere near the high standards expected of them.
Having watched Ireland get torn asunder by England, the legendary Brian O'Driscoll has stated his preferred midfield partnership for the World Cup
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 27, 2019
In the pack, Henderson was subdued by the likes of Maro Itoje after an initially bright start in stealing the possession that led to an early Irish try while O’Mahony was unable to exhibit any of his usual tenacity in powering the Irish pack forward from the blindside.
Meanwhile, out the back, Stockdale was harrowingly left watching far too many English tries get run-in at the corner he was haplessly defending, while there are question marks over whether the midfield should continue to be built around Aki after he had no answers to the power and poise of Manu Tuilagi and co.
Aki’s selection as the starting No12 in 18 of Ireland’s last 22 matches was fastened upon by no less a legend than Brian O’Driscoll, who told RugbyPass on Tuesday that his preferred starting midfield combination for the World Cup in Japan would be Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose, a pairing that hasn’t started together since the June 2018 series-saving win in Melbourne over Australia.
O’Mahony’s probable repeat selection next Saturday will come with a twist as he is likely to bed down at openside and not at No6.
With Sean O’Brien and Dan Leavy out of the World Cup mix due to injury, Josh van der Flier struggled against England to fill this void and O’Mahony could be given an opportunity to audition for this role in Cardiff with his provincial team-mate, Munster’s Tadhg Beirne, presented with the chance to fit in at blindside in a back row completed by Leinster’s Jack Conan.
Expect the second row to feature Henderson with James Ryan along with an all-Munster front row consisting of Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell and John Ryan. Continuing the theme of using provincial combinations at Test level, Kieran Marmion is set to be chosen at half-back alongside his Connacht colleague Jack Carty, who is starting a Test for the first time.
Outside them, Aki is expected to pair up with Henshaw in the middle, with Stockdale joined in the back three by Andrew Conway and Will Addison.
IRELAND (probable v Wales)
W Addison; A Conway, R Henshaw, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Carty, K Marmion; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, Jn Ryan, I Henderson, Js Ryan, T Beirne, P O’Mahony, J Conan.
WATCH: The RugbyPass guide to Yokohama Stadium where Ireland will open their World Cup against Scotland on September 22.
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