The Irish will get their captain’s run training session at Soldier Field wrapped up nice and early today to avoid the Cub’s World Series victory parade when an estimated two million-plus Chicagoans are expected to flood the streets of the city to celebrate their first title since 1908.
Their Game 7 victory over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday night has brought Ireland’s own drought against the All Blacks into sharp focus and head coach Schmidt is understandably more than keen to finally end a 28-game run without victory since 1905.
Having presided over that agonising near miss against the country of his birth in 2013, Schmidt has two attempts in the next three weeks to make history for his adopted country and channelling the Cubs’ baseball success in ending their own 108-year curse this week would do him just fine.
“People wrote the Cubs off at 3-1 down (in the World Series) and they were going to Cleveland for the last three games and they picked them up and got the result,” Schmidt said.
“Gee, I’d love to believe in omens, but I don’t. I’m not superstitious. 1908 is pretty similar to 1905 but I think the similarities pretty much stop there. If we played them at baseball, I think they’re pretty good at baseball as well.
“I think we’ll just try to play rugby against them and I think whatever happens, as a group we’re looking forward to what we can learn from the game and how we can build from the game as a result of the effort we put in, the learnings we take and hopefully for the next three weeks we can see some evidence of that.”
Schmidt and his players are acutely aware of the dangers the world champions will pose Ireland as Steve Hansen’s side go in search of a world-record 19th consecutive Test victory. He yesterday named as experienced a side as he could muster given he left an undercooked Peter O’Mahony and Sean O’Brien at home and then lost the services of Paddy Jackson following allegations of a sexual offence against the Ulster fly-half.
Jackson’s absence means a place on the bench and potential debut for 21-year-old Joey Carbery while midfield back-up is provided by another possible Test debutant in Garry Ringrose, also 21.
“It’s a little bit daunting for them but it’s a great opportunity for them to learn,” Schmidt said of the young Leinster backs.
“It’s not ideal, it’s a bit of a baptism of fire, but they are both quite natural players and have shown great enthusiasm for what’s ahead. They can run all day and hopefully they’re not chasing shadows. Hopefully they can get a shot with the ball to show what they can do.”
It will not be just that inexperienced duo’s duty, the coach added, to keep focused on the task at hand for 80-plus minutes if Ireland are to avoid another late heartbreak they experienced in 2013.
“We trained pretty well this morning. The players know if they’re not focused, the All Blacks’ ability to run up scores in the space of 10 minutes – 10 minutes can be 20-plus points. We’ve seen it. We’ve seen Argentina go really hard at them for 30 minutes and in the 10 minutes before half time suddenly it’s game over at half time. That’s the nature of the beast when you’re playing the All Blacks. They are second to none in their ability to add scores very quickly. So I think the players are feeling that pressure to make sure that they are as well attuned as they possibly can be on the back of training on Monday and Thursday.
“So in terms of getting some cohesion, there will be times that potentially we’ll lack. If that happens often then we’re going to have to be really good to try to stop them getting right away on us.”
At least they will be certain to be more focused than a member of the New Zealand media who yesterday directed a question at starting loosehead prop Jack McGrath, believing him to be captain and fellow front-rower Rory Best. Asked for his thoughts his “opposite number” Dane Coles, McGrath replied deftly: “Emm, I’ll tell Rory that when I see him. I’m Jack McGrath, by the way.” To which another Kiwi journalist followed up with: “Jack, on a scale of 1 to 10, how offensive is it being confused with Rory Best?
“Well, he wears a scrum-cap so sometimes...” began McGrath, “I’ve been called worse, let’s just say that. It’s not too bad; I don’t mind that. The calibre of the man, it’s not too bad to be compared to him.”