AS HIS SQUAD gingerly come into Carton House for camp two weeks before the start of the Six Nations, Joe Schmidt issued a state of the nation address from IRFU headquarters today.
The New Zealander spoke briefly on a range of issues from the Heineken Cup draw to Sean O’Brien’s new deal – ‘the IRFU did a great job’ – and Tommy Bowe’s injury.
Of the latter, he indicated that Bowe will most likely not return to contention for an international jersey until the visit to Twickenham on February 22, but could feature for Ulster before that.
The point Schmidt was keen to make was the need for strength in depth in his international squad, hinting that numbers 16 to 23 will be used for impact rather than merely as replacements throughout the competition.
“I think we’d all acknowledge that there is a need for a real depth,” says the Kiwi.
“We used 29 players in total [in November], but we’ve already got a few injuries coming into the Six Nations. I think the impact of players coming in off the bench – it’s very much a 23-man game and that was made very clear in all three Tests.
“[Against] Samoa, we got some guys off the bench who had a really positive impact, the Australians and New Zealanders did the same.”
“It’s gonna be really important that we try to grow our depth and having the Wolfhounds and Irish squads combined together will be a good little window this week.”
The Wolfhounds face the England Saxons in Gloucester’s Kingsholm ground this Saturday, but all eyes are firmly fixed on February and the beginning of Schmidt’s first Six Nations.
After almost edging out the World Champions, national rugby confidence at its highest point for a number of years. Schmidt, however, was preaching caution that the November internationals should not be used as a reference point when spring comes around.
“The Autumn series are notoriously bad indicators of form this year. England had a big win over the All Blacks [in 2012] and didn’t quite get there. France were favourites for the Six Nations last year after an unbeaten autumn and they ended up at the tail end.
“Whatever has been achieved in the autumn, whatever momentum we got, we’ve got to try and pick up where we left off and re-establish that momentum.”
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