Joe Schmidt is optimistic that Ireland can cope without fly-half Jonathan Sexton after he was ruled out of the summer tour to South Africa after undergoing shoulder surgery.
The 2013 British & Irish Lions playmaker faces three months on the sidelines as he recovers from the operation, meaning that Ireland will have to turn elsewhere as they target a first win away to the Springboks.
Follow the Lions on LinkedIn!
In Sexton’s place Ian Madigan has joined the squad, while there are three other new faces as fellow Lions Luke Fitzgerald and Rob Kearney – plus the latter’s brother Dave Kearney have also been ruled out.
Matt Healy, Tiernan O’Halloran and Craig Gilroy are the other replacements called up, and Schmidt is hopeful that their youthful exuberance can help the side.
“The experience that he has, the fact that he is one of the key leaders along with Rory [Best] and Jamie [Heaslip], that’s a loss,” said Schmidt of Sexton.
“But when you lose experience you often can gain excitement and there’s some really excited young players.
“If we lose that experience, hopefully that experience can be compensated with the excitement those guys bring.
“I had a good conversation with Johnny. We have to move on and you start investing in Paddy Jackson, Ian Madigan and Stu Olding.
“There was a feeling that it could be managed conservatively either for him to continue playing or for him to return but after seeing the specialist [on Monday], it was felt that surgery was the most appropriate action.”
Paddy Jackson is the most likely player to start in Sexton’s absence, despite Madigan being used more often as a replacement because of his versatility.
However Schmidt believes the Ulster fly-half will be ready when called upon, even if his last Test start dates back to 2015.
“I don’t think we can live with regrets,” added Schmidt. “At the time [during the Championship] Johnny played really well and we needed the multi-cover off the bench, particularly because we tended to lose players during those games.
“At the same time, Paddy was in and out of camp during that time so he was certainly up to speed in terms of what we were doing. That was probably a real upsurge in his form.”