Rugby

Ireland coach defends inclusion of Jean Kleyn over Devin Toner

AFP-JIJI

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has slammed Agustin Pichot’s criticism of his decision to select Jean Kleyn instead of Devin Toner in his World Cup squad.

World Rugby vice chairman Pichot urged Toner to ask the sport’s governing body “for answers” following his controversial absence from Ireland’s 31-man World Cup squad on Monday.

South Africa-born Kleyn only qualified for Ireland on residency two days before his Test debut, in the 29-10 victory over Italy on Aug. 10.

Pichot hit out at Ireland selecting a naturalized player over a home-grown talent, while former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll said the decision “beggars belief.”

“If I was Devin Toner … I will be asking WR for answers,” tweeted Pichot, who played for Argentina as a scrum-half.

“I feel sorry for him; nothing against who was properly selected for the RWC19 by the way. But feel that way.”

On Tuesday, Schmidt launched a strong defense of his selection for the tournament in Japan, which starts on Sept. 20.

“Gus Pichot had a big opinion about who should be world number one as well,” Schmidt said, referring to comments Pichot has made regarding Wales’ rise to the top of the sport’s global rankings.

“I think he has a number of big opinions, but they’re not ones that are relevant for us and, talking to Gats (Wales coach Warren Gatland) last week, they weren’t relevant to him either.

“What is relevant is that under the laws of the game, as they were, we are entitled to pick guys who have qualified.

“Considering he is involved in World Rugby, he could have a look at what the rules were and not have so many things to say because for us it is tough enough to do our job and tough enough for me to have a conversation as I did with Dev.

“With Ireland the qualification involvement is, I don’t know, probably six or seven percent. The rest are homegrown guys who are not only homegrown but who are domiciled here apart from two years when Johnny (Sexton) was used from Paris.

“If there was any question about the number of Irish people involved then I would be surprised when you match up those numbers.”

New Zealand-born Schmidt has become an Irish citizen in his time coaching first Leinster and now Ireland.

Schmidt defended his naturalized Ireland players in the wake of criticism regarding Kleyn, insisting anyone winning test caps for his side has proved their commitment.

“I’m not sure I’m the most qualified to comment as I am a blow-in myself and I’ll be blowing out soon enough, so Gus Pichot has changed the rules and those rules will apply beyond this World Cup and they will apply as long as people feel that is the right residency rule,” Schmidt said.

“Now, I think that the majority — and maybe it is a silent majority — will fully get behind this squad and be fully supportive in the hope that we can do as well as we can in Japan.”

The 53-year-old will return to New Zealand after the World Cup, stepping down after six years at the Irish helm.

Schmidt hopes to bow out as head coach with an improved showing from 2015 when an injury-hit side were blitzed by Argentina in the quarterfinals — the Irish have never got further than the last eight.

They begin their Pool A campaign on Sept. 22 against Scotland, generally regarded as their main rivals for top spot although hosts Japan could have a say in that too when the Irish face them on Sept. 28.

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