Rugby Union

Joe Schmidt defends Warren Gatland as Ireland beat Japan

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt admits to having some sympathy with Warren Gatland over the issue of calling up replacements for the British and Irish Lions tour

Rugby Union International: Ireland 50 Japan 22

IRELAND head coach Joe Schmidt has sympathised with Warren Gatland's decision to call up six replacement players as cover for the British and Irish Lions' forthcoming midweek games against the Chiefs and the Hurricanes.

Lions head coach Gatland has called upon the Welsh quartet of Gareth Davies, Cory Hill, Tomas Francis and Kristian Dacey as well as Scotland pair Finn Russell and Allan Dell to protect his 23-man squad for next Saturday's Test opener against the All Blacks at Eden Park.

Wales and Scotland are currently based in Auckland and Sydney respectively, with the proximity of those players having a major bearing on the selection criteria.

The decision has attracted a furious response from coaches, past players and media with England head coach Eddie Jones blasting Gatland for selecting players based on "geographical proximity" rather than merit after his players, who are in Argentina, were overlooked for potential call-ups.

Schmidt's squad, who are in Tokyo for a two-Test series with Japan, were also bypassed, but the Kiwi agreed with Gatland's tactics.

"I just think it's practical," said Schmidt, following Ireland's 50-22 victory over Japan in Shizuoka.

"I do, because if I was trying to coach a team to play the All Blacks and I didn't get five or six of them until the Thursday when they have recovered from a fairly bruising match on the Tuesday we know from our experience of playing the All Blacks that it is a 23-man game.

"You cannot beat the All Blacks with 15 players. You have to have a fully-fit group who have had the full preparation of the week. Personally, I do see that making sense."

Schmidt confirmed that none of his squad had been in communication with the Lions management this week.

"I have had no contact from the Lions at all," he said.

"I can say that. I was aware that it was likely that players were going to come in for that Chiefs game before they left. That was always part of the plan.

"The practicality of it makes sense. Going into a Test match against the All Blacks with four or five of your players playing on the Tuesday. Not in the modern game. It used to be the way."

Ireland followed up their 55-19 demolition of the US Eagles in New Jersey last Saturday with a seven-try trouncing of Japan at Ecopa Stadium.

Keith Earls, Jack Conan and Dan Leavy all bagged braces, with Garry Ringrose adding a late five-pointer.

Ryuji Noguchi, Kenki Fukuoka and Yutaka Nagore crossed for second-half tries for the home side, but Ireland were always in control.

"The conditions were slightly less hot than we thought they were going to be because we were here yesterday for the captain's run and it was searingly hot," Schmidt added.

"So it made for what I thought was a really good game in good conditions.

"On the back of a strong scrum we managed to control a lot of the first half, but you saw how dangerous the Japanese team are when they get time and space on the ball. They were super in the last quarter of the game."

Schmidt expects all his players to be available for next Saturday's rematch in Tokyo, despite Simon Zebo, Paddy Jackson, Luke McGrath, Finlay Bealham, Leavy, Rhys Ruddock and Cian Healy all leaving the field with injuries during a fast-paced encounter.

"I don't think there is anything serious for us." he added.

"A couple of blood injuries but they seem fine. Luke McGrath got a poke in the eye, he's fine now, just had blurred vision. We just felt it right to take him out of the contact zone. The rest of them are really bumps and bruises.

"Simon Zebo already had a bump on his knee and as luck would have it he got a knock on exactly the same place on the knee. The others were shoulders and ribs that were sore but nothing serious."

Meanwhile, Japan head coach Jamie Joseph was left bitterly disappointed with his side's display.

The Brave Blossoms were overpowered by Ireland's dominant set-piece and array of strike runners with Earls, Andrew Conway and Leavy making big dents in the home defence all afternoon.

"Shizuoka turned on a real show for us but we let them down," Joseph said, after his side's display in front of a crowd of 27,231.

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