Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has played down talk that his players are burnt out ahead of their three-Test series against South Africa.
Several injuries have struck their camp before they set off for the southern hemisphere, with flankers Sean O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony, prop Cian Healy, full-back Rob Kearney, fly-half Jonathan Sexton and wings Luke Fitzgerald, Tommy Bowe and Dave Kearney ruled out.
But Schmidt has said that fewer Irish teams being involved in the Champions Cup knockouts means they’re not as fatigued as people suggest.
“From my perspective, our game minutes are down this year so our players have actually played a little bit less this year compared to last year,” he told Press Association Sport.
“It’s a World Cup year – any year post-World Cup, I agree, that season is long.
“By the time you take the pre-season, the four warm-up Test matches, and as soon as you’re playing matches at a high level, they’re more attritional mentally as well as physically because you’ve got to really extend yourself because you know your opponent is at a very high level.
“From that perspective, it is tough. From the coaches perspective, we’re incredibly excited about the opportunity this gives us.”
He added about the new faces coming in: “If there are guys missing, I’m going to know more about Tiernan O’Halloran, more about Matt Healy in a week-to-week environment.
“I’ve been down to Connacht. I’ve seen them train. I’ve certainly seen them play a lot of times.
“But you get to know a player more and you see him slot in and you say, ‘there’s the level, here it is now, how will he go? Gee, you’re coping really well’.
“That’s another stride you can take, so this is a really good opportunity for us.
“One of the things a lot of people reference is the depth of our playing pool. I think this is a really good opportunity to extend that depth and find out more about players.
“What better time to do it when you’ve got time to build on those players you see showing you promise.
“It is an attritional year because of its longevity. It hasn’t been as much because of the actual game time that players have played but there is a volume in training that does take its toll.”