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21st Nov 2019

Joe Schmidt: dropping Toner and Marmion was “miserable”

Rob O'Hanrahan

Joe speaks out on the biggest calls.

The news that Joe Schmidt would be releasing a book about himself, written by himself, caught everyone by surprise in the last few weeks. Arguably the most influential Irish rugby coach in history, Schmidt has always been somewhat enigmatic and keen in interviews to keep the spotlight on the players, rather than himself. We hoped for insight, and we’ve gotten it in Ordinary Joe.

When the World Cup squad for Japan was named, a couple of big names were glaringly absent. Devin Toner, a stalwart in the Irish starting XV, let alone the bench or wider squad, was suddenly staying in Dublin, while ever-steady replacement 9 (and the man at the back of the rucks for Ireland’s defeat of New Zealand in 2018) Kieran Marmion had also received the chop. They lost out to newly-qualified project player Jean Kleyn and Leinster scrum-half Luke McGrath respectively.

In Ordinary Joe, Schmidt spoke openly about his decision to drop Toner from the 31-man travelling contingent entirely;

“One very tough decision was leaving Devin Toner out of the squad. Dev had been late to get started in pre-season due to an injury, but he was a known quantity for us. We had hoped that he’d solve a few lineout issues when he came on against England, but we were also realistic that one player cannot completely change something which has so many working parts. One issue for us was that we had been alerted that the citing commissioner was looking at an incident close to our line in the seventy-fifth minute, when Dev made shoulder contact with Rob Evans. We hadn’t noticed the contact at the time, but we reviewed the footage and it didn’t look good. But we could se that there was nothing deliberate from Dev but that his shoulder had impacted directly onto Rob Evans’ head. After Scott Barrett’s red card and suspension over a shoulder charge in the Rugby Championship, we fretted that Dev would incur a similar sanction. We had been warned by Alain Rolland, in his presentation to us, that any shoulder-to-head contact was likely to have a starting point of a six-week suspension. It was a difficult call, but we decided to select Tadhg Beirne, who can play both second row and back row, and Jean Kleyn, the only specialist tighthead-scrummaging second-row in the squad.”

When it came to Marmion’s absence, Joey Carbery interestingly played quite a large role in the decision for the Connacht man to remain out West;

“Scrum-half was especially difficult. It had already been a tough decision to leave out John Cooney, who’d had a great season for Ulster and had been with us through the Six Nations. The medics were confident that Joey Carbery would be fit for the Scotland game, and we decided that he could provide emergency scrum-half cover, meaning that we would only select two specialists. That left us needing to omit one of the three scrum halves in the squad. Conor Murray, who had worked his way back into form after his layoff at the start of last season; Luke McGrath who’d been playing well and has a strong kicking game; or Kieran Marmion, who is not just an outstanding player but a great team contributor. It was very difficult to choose between Luke and Kieran, because they’re both top quality people and players, but we opted for Luke on the strength of his kicking game.”

Perhaps most interestingly was Schmidt’s admission as to just how much it hurt him personally to make these decisions, even as a coaching team;

“In the end we finalised the squad of thirty-one before combining our notes on the players who missed selection, which formed the basis for my feedback when I spoke with them today. It’s a day I dread and the players vary in their responses, with some having less expectations than others; but regardless of the reaction, I feel miserable for those who miss out.”

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