Schmidt relishes Irish competition ahead of Cup
Ireland's Six Nations success has handed coach Joe Schmidt a dilemma, the New Zealander said on Tuesday, anticipating fierce competition for places ahead of next year's World Cup.
Ireland won their second title in 29 years with a heart-stopping win in France on Saturday having rarely changed their team throughout with former fringe players like David Kearney, Devin Toner and Andrew Trimble grasping their opportunities.
The challenge now is whether continuity can be sacrificed to give a chance to those on the sidelines, many of whom are British and Irish Lions.
"There's 10 test matches before we start the lead up to the World Cup and I did anticipate probably that we would have used more than 18 starting players and that would have been through natural attrition," Schmidt told a news conference.
"If you do start leaving people out, then maybe you start to compromise that continuity that you're trying to build. I guess that's one of the questions we'll ask ourselves.
"There are some guys who haven't played too much lately who are looking pretty fresh, guys like Stephen Ferris, Donnacha Ryan, Tommy Bowe, to name a few. There'll be some nice competition for places there as well."
Competition is set to be particularly intense on the wings and in the back row. Trimble and Kearney, arguably fifth and sixth choice wingers a year ago, have pushed Munster flyer Simon Zebo out of the reckoning and a fit again Bowe found his services were not required for Paris.
At flanker, Chris Henry's tireless tackling and work rate saw the backrow function flawlessly without former European player of the year Sean O'Brien, while Ferris, a fixture in the side before injury ruled him out for 16 months, made a big impact on his return to action for Ulster on Friday.
That is before the young Leinster duo of Jordi Muprhy and Rhys Ruddock, Ulster's Iain Henderson, a starter against Italy, and much improved Munster flanker Tommy O'Donnell come into the reckoning.
One position where Ireland's fortunes are a little more unknown is at second centre after Brian O'Driscoll, the game's most capped international, played his final game in green on Saturday.
Connacht's Robbie Henshaw, 20, and the more seasoned Ulster centre Darren Cave, gleaned all they could from O'Driscoll in camp over the last few weeks, while Schmidt also mentioned Leinster's Luke Fitzgerald and the soon-to-be nationalised Jared Payne as other contenders for the famous number 13 jersey.
Asked if he would like O'Driscoll to carry on in some capacity to work with his successor, Schmidt said he had already made sure they had taken every opportunity to learn from the four-time British and Irish Lion.
"We've tried to bleed him dry over the last six months, having him at camp, sitting down with Darren (Cave) and Robbie (Henshaw), looking and video and talking through things as we've done them," Schmidt said.
"We'd be delighted if he stayed reasonably close to the group because of the character he is as well as the on field intelligence he has. I know right now, his full focus will be targeting a couple of massive games coming up for his province."