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.”