Injuries rock Ireland but Schmidt has time on his side
The bonus point was wrapped up with just over half an hour gone. Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton were wrapped up with half an hour to play.
Eight tries, attacking threats everywhere, and a 37 point winning margin, but go back in time and offer Joe Schmidt a 3-0 win where everybody comes through unscathed, and he’ll gladly take it.
Robbie Henshaw looks certain to miss the remainder of the tournament after a nasty landing on his shoulder when scoring the second of his two tries, while Tadhg Furlong limped off barely four minutes in with a hamstring problem.
The hope for Furlong is that it was a tightening rather than a tear, and was dealt with immediately rather than playing through the pain barrier and risking further damage. He has two weeks to recover for Wales, and four weeks for Scotland. Taking a glass-half-full approach, if there was a day for Furlong to do the hammer, this was it.
If he is to miss the game against Wales at the Aviva, the deputies are more than capable, while obviously being some way off Furlong’s level. Andrew Porter looked comfortable playing what was more-or-less a full game on Saturday, and while he still has plenty to learn about test level rugby, it was an important trial run, and a reassurance to both Porter and Joe Schmidt that the Irish scrum can function without the world’s best tighthead.
John Ryan may have struggled against France in Paris, but has been an otherwise steady and reliable presence on the Irish bench in the last 18 months. Porter may have beaten him to the 18 shirt last week, but Ryan’s destructive performance for Munster against Zebre will have been a welcome sight for Joe Schmidt.
While Furlong is a worry for Wales, Robbie Henshaw looks unlikely to feature again before the end of the tournament. The specifics of his shoulder injury are yet to be revealed, but Joe Schmidt admitted “the degree of discomfort” wasn’t particularly promising.
Garry Ringrose is making steady progress in his recovery from an ankle injury, but he’s unlikely to be thrown in cold for such a big game against Wales. Chris Farrell looks the likely candidate to partner Bundee Aki, given they looked a steady partnership in the November win against Argentina. Stuart McCloskey will also provide a similar option as Farrell, and his performance for Ulster in Friday night’s win against the Southern Kings won’t do his chances of selection any harm.
Schmidt could also take a different approach and opt for Rory Scannell, creating a dual kicking threat in a similar fashion to Munster.
Whichever option Schmidt goes for, time is on his side to weigh it up.