O’Sullivan: Lineout calling duty puts huge pressure on Ryan

O’Sullivan: Lineout calling duty puts huge pressure on Ryan
Joe Schmidt

Ireland fly out to Japan today with their World Cup ambitions back on an even keel after the destabilising defeat in Twickenham, but Eddie O’Sullivan believes the squad have not left all their issues behind them.

The former Ireland head coach, a pundit for RTÉ during the tournament, does feel Joe Schmidt has ironed out most of the kinks after a thumping defeat to England that put the side in “crisis mode”.

The back-to-back wins against Wales — though tempered by the fact that the first was a game between two ‘B’ teams and the second a tie against a visiting side that seemed to have one eye on the flight to Asia — have clearly settled the nerves.

Inside the camp and outside it too.

But there remains a handful of questions over the makeup of the Irish side, and how it may approach this tournament, which is slightly surprising and that uncertainty makes for a fine mix of intrigue and anxiousness as the first game, against Scotland, approaches.

“Not to dwell on the Devin Toner selection, (but) putting James Ryan into his first World Cup as the main lineout caller, which he potentially hasn’t had ever because he is learning his trade as a caller ... the World Cup isn’t the best place to be doing it.

“So huge pressure on him,” said O’Sullivan.

“He settled at the weekend (against Wales) after getting the first couple of calls wrong. It’s going to be a test for Ryan but I think he is the next Paul O’Connell and hopefully that won’t detract from his game.”

If Toner’s non-selection gave rise to most comment last week then the sight of Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw holding the centre, and Garry Ringrose once again playing on the wing from off the bench, has been digested as proof that Ireland are aping the wider trend of power before panache.

England and South Africa are being widely tipped as favourites for the title for that reason precisely, given they possess packs littered with forwards who bring size and explosiveness and athleticism to the table.

He is mulling the midfield. There is talk of Ringrose covering the back field. That’s an unusual call because we have always seen him as the outside centre and then it was a case of Aki or Henshaw inside.

“Now, Henshaw looks like a potential outside-centre so that would mean a different game plan.

“I think they are going more direct, more confrontational with Aki and Henshaw in the middle.

“I’m not sure if that’s the thinking but you could read that into it.”

Schmidt himself has spoken of Ringrose as a virtual utility back in recent weeks, his usefulness stretching from centre to wing and to full-back and even out-half, according to the Kiwi head coach. Wherever he features, it will be a clear signal of the team’s wider approach.

O’Sullivan would be particularly concerned if it is a case of Aki-Henshaw in midfield. Not necessarily in the pool stages but come a quarter-final, especially if the opposition is a bigger and stronger South African side that Ireland have invariably sought to outbox than outpunch.

His third concern rests at full-back, not because of anything Rob Kearney brings to the table but as a result of the Leinster man’s injury record and the absence of any readymade replacement should he come a cropper.

Jordan Larmour, Andrew Conway, Ringrose would all be in line to do a job.

Henshaw too, though his audition for the No.15 jersey did not go well when England did a job on the then Grand Slam champions in Dublin last spring.

“Everywhere else, I would say he is happy,” said O’Sullivan, who was Ireland head coach for the 2003 and 2007 tournaments.

“The back row debate, (Josh) van der Flier is definitely there.

“Peter O’Mahony has to come in for the lineout, if for no other reason. Then it is between (Jack) Conan and (CJ) Stander for No.8.

“I wouldn’t be that confident he won’t stay with Conan. Stander might have missed a beat. He made a good case last weekend but maybe he has made up his mind already to play Stander at six. They are the kind of things he is mulling over.”

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