Joe Schmidt has adopted a “risky strategy” in preparing Ireland to peak for a potential World Cup Pool D decider against France, according to Ben Kay.
England World Cup winner Kay claims Ireland squad players have revealed head coach Schmidt has staggered their build-up to keep key men fresh for the pivotal clash on Sunday, October 11.
Ireland will launch their pool-stage campaign by taking on Canada in Cardiff on Saturday, with Italy and Romania their other early rivals.
Schmidt is aiming to guide double RBS 6 Nations winners Ireland to their first-ever World Cup semi-final, with 2003 winner Kay backing the Kiwi boss in his calculated gamble.
“One of their issues has been looking at the fixtures ahead of them and planning,” said former England and Leicester lock Kay.
“Because their first World Cup game against Canada, they haven’t performed particularly well, then Romania – Ireland probably have the easiest draw.
“So they’ve got that build-up then they have a tougher game against Italy, and the big one against France at the end. Speaking to people around the squad they are saying that their build-up has been slightly different in that they are looking to peak slightly later in the tournament.
“That’s a risky strategy if you can’t get the confidence.”
Former Bay of Plenty coach Schmidt created a feared attacking arsenal as Leinster dominated the European scene, but has reined in that style at Test level.
Kay believes the Ireland boss has simply reacted to resources, but pinpointed Ireland’s suffocating style as hugely profitable in high-pressure World Cup contests.
“Joe Schmidt is tactically one of the best coaches in the world though, and always brings the best out of the squad,” said Kay.
“He’s very good at looking at and working on the strengths of the team he has.
“When he was at Leinster they had an open style of play because they had that attacking threat. This Irish team he has gone very much into a style of rugby that suits World Cups.
“You don’t see many teams winning World Cup finals running in bagfuls of tries. While it might not be so exciting to watch, with the high ball to the fore, but in their half-back combination they’ve probably got the most settled game-management team.
“They’ve done very well and deservedly managed to reach the second-place ranking in the world earlier this summer. I worry about their threats in the backline not being quite as strong, with Drico (Brian O’Driscoll) not being there and other players having retired.
“But as a forward pack they are capable of arm-wrestling with the best.”