Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Joe Schmidt has just sent an unmistakeable message to all aspiring Irish rugby players. Perform well, and you will keep your place on the team. Lions Sean O'Brien and Iain Henderson may be fit and raring to go, but Sean has to be satisfied with an outing for Leinster against the Scarlets, and Iain is on the bench. Prove your match fitness to me, he seems to be saying, if you want a chance to start against England.

The days of some players being "untouchable" are long gone. It used to be harder to be dropped from the Irish team than to get on to it. Ireland used 19 players in their last grand slam in 2009. Now form players like James Ryan, Porter, and Larmour are getting their chance regardless of their tender years.

Sexton and Murray are probably the last "untouchables" left on the team, but that is only for as long as Schmidt needs to develop their understudies as world class replacements. Rory Best has also been able to see off all contenders despite his advancing years. You can be sure that Schmidt is working on developing alternatives.

You can also be sure that Schmidt is determined to avoid a recurrence of what happened in the last World Cup, where injuries to a few key players derailed our chances. You don't win a World Cup without having at least 31 players who can perform at the highest level.

Winning the 6N Championship, the Grand Slam, and the Next World Cup is now what it is all about for Joe Schmidt and the squad. Nothing less will do. I fully expect Joe to succeed with the first two tasks in the next 2 weeks, gaining a no. 2 ranking in the world in the process. Then only the All Blacks will stand in our way.

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by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Mar 9th, 2018 at 01:25:06 AM EST

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