The ghosts of 2007 don’t exactly haunt the corridors of Ireland’s stately home at Carton House, but valuable lessons have been learned from that shuddering World Cup experience of eight years ago.
Ireland begin their 2015 campaign Saturday with a date against Canada in Cardiff that is likely to see the vast majority of Joe Schmidt’s first XV take the anthems, but the expectation is that all 31 of the squad will be pressed into action before the pool stages are over.
Team manager Mick Kearney intimated as much yesterday.
“The team hasn’t been picked yet for Canada, but to bring a 31-man squad and not give them an opportunity in the pool stages wouldn’t be the best thing for the squad,” he said ahead of the team’s departure for the UK tomorrow.
“If you look back to 2007 there were a number of players who didn’t play in the pool stages and didn’t play at all. That leads to a certain amount of discord among the group. It is important to use the squad during the group stages, but ultimately that is down to the coaches to make that decision.” Only three of Eddie O’Sullivan’s squad didn’t boot up eight years ago.
Stephen Ferris, Alan Quinlan and Brian Carney were the odd men out, although others hardly fared much better. Gavin Duffy, for example, only played nine minutes.
Declan Kidney was far more embracing of the squad ethos in 2011. All 30 of the original travelling party broke sweat with most of the ‘squaddies’ earning their outings against Russia. Damian Varley, who flew out mid-event for an injured Jerry Flannery, was the only non-combatant.
Schmidt will depart for the tournament buoyed by a lack of injury concerns with Kearney confirming yesterday that Conor Murray had completed all return-to-play protocols after the bump to the head against England last Saturday week. Rob Kearney is also over the slight bruising to the knee suffered in training while Cian Healy, the main concern all summer with his ever-ongoing recovery from neck surgery, has also been handed the all clear. All three trained yesterday and are available for selection.
It’s a welcome starting point for the side ahead of their Pool D assignments, even if two defeats in their last pair of warm-up games to Wales and England were not part of the plan, and they approach the event in good spirits and on the back of three days off late last week. It has been a long and grinding summer pre-season, but Schmidt’s decision to stay in Ireland as long as possible has allowed players intermittent periods to spend at home while efforts have been made to lighten the mental load in camp as well.
Christy Moore, Tommy Tiernan and Usain Bolt have been among the guests welcomed in recent months and the world’s fastest man, who popped into the team hotel in London ahead of the last warm-up, made a particularly strong impression. “From our point of view, we’re feeling pretty good at the minute,” said Rory Best. “But, obviously, the results over the last two games haven’t went the way we wanted. He (Bolt) has a lot of self-belief. He knows when he prepares well and is ready for the tournament he can perform. He was unbelievably relaxed.
“The big thing that struck me about him, as a presence, was just how big he is. Paulie (O’Connell) went to present him with a shirt. Paulie still claims he had an inch on him, but, I’m not convinced.”
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