Simon Easterby: Ireland will stick with what they have for Georgia test

Assistant coach Simon Easterby says there will be some experience and some inexperience in the side that is picked to face the Eastern Europeans this Sunday
Simon Easterby: Ireland will stick with what they have for Georgia test

Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby: 'We just felt like the guys who we selected in the original wider squad were guys that we were looking to play in this Georgia game'. Picture: Donall Farmer

Andy Farrell has handed out debuts to eight players in 2020 but the Ireland management team has all but pulled up the drawbridge on further recruits for now as he goes about giving game time and opportunities to those already in camp.

The head coach named a 34-man panel for this four-game Autumn Nations Cup tournament which has so far delivered a win against Wales and a defeat to England, but only 20 have started as the group faces into Sunday's encounter with Georgia in Dublin.

John Ryan reported an injury issue during the warm-up in London at the weekend. That was treated but flared up again during the second half of the defeat. It is expected that he will be able to train fully this week and the IRFU also reported that Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw will continue their respective rehab programmes.

Ulster's Eric O'Sullivan was the only fresh face added to the squad as they reassembled in camp this morning. The uncapped Ulster prop has been drafted in for Leinster's Ed Byrne who is hampered by a calf strain.

However, the likes of Harry Byrne and Ryan Baird have not received similar invitations with assistant coach Simon Easterby stressing the need for those already in situ to be given the opportunity to show what they can do on the big stage.

Of the 34 originally called upon, five have yet to see game time in this new competition.

"Players coming in for a week, they have got a lot to deal with and take on board,” said Easterby on Tuesday afternoon. “Is it giving them the best opportunity to perform if we're asking them to come in six or seven days before a Test match?

"It's getting balance and we just felt like the guys who we selected in the original wider squad were guys that we were looking to play in this Georgia game. There will be some experience in the team as well as some inexperience for the weekend.

“We don't want to just be handing out caps as well, we want to make sure that guys earn the right to get selected."

Georgia will be dealt with regardless of the personnel used but Ireland have plenty to occupy their minds after last weekend's 18-7 loss in Twickenham when so many of the familiar failings from the past two years reared their head again.

The side was far too one-dimensional and predictable in attack, basic errors again acted as a brake on their progress while the lineouts, an area of such rich reward for this team for so many years, was close to shambolic at times against Eddie Jones' side.

That last area is one of Easterby's areas of expertise and the former Ireland flanker made particular mention of the younger demographic within a pack where James Ryan is now calling the lineouts and Ronan Kelleher is the man throwing it in.

"I would say there is a combination of things. A little bit of inexperience in a number of areas, we probably needed to strip back a little bit some of the options that we had, and we will look to implement those over the next couple of weeks.

"We're also on a journey with this lineout group, it's a new group. We've got a couple of inexperienced younger guys in there who we feel are learning every week and they're growing in their roles. It takes time to grow combinations and get those things right.

"England, in terms of where they're at in comparison to where we're at, they have far more experience that they've gained over the last couple of seasons as a forward pack compared to some of the guys in our group. That's all part of the building process that we're trying to get to.

"There's definitely a couple of fixes and alterations we need to make but I don't think it's doom and gloom. We're really confident with the guys we've selected and the guys that took the pitch on the weekend.”

So many of the pillars on which Ireland built so much success under Joe Schmidt have come in for questioning since the heights of 2018 when a Grand Slam was won, the All Blacks were beaten and the side sat proudly on top of the world rankings.

Individual players, such as Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray, have suffered dips in form and tactical weapons in the form of strike plays, lineouts and mauls from close to the opposition line have not run as smoothly as heretofore.

Easterby expressed a certainty that the issues in the lineout have not caused confidence to crack in the ranks but the sense that this team's identity has been challenged like never before is equally apparent in the ongoing insistence on ignoring easy penalties and kicking instead for the corner.

It is a tactic that worked so well under Schmidt. It is an approach that screamed self-confidence and put opposing teams under enormous pressure, physically and mentally, but the ground has shifted under everyone's feet now with tweaks to the rules around the maul.

It may be too that Ireland have simply been worked out.

Easterby accepted that there are times, as happened against Wales earlier this month, when it is wiser to build up a score through kicks at the posts, but he insisted that the call in these circumstances lies with the leadership group on the field of play.

“Yeah, that certainly can keep momentum going and not take it away from an opportunity to score points but you've also got a feel out there in the game. The players may feel there is an opportunity to get more out of a strike play or a maul or a scrum than it is to take three points because they feel the opposition is under pressure.

“Now, we don't always get those decisions right but, more often than not, it is a decision made on the pitch and not one we are screaming down the microphone. We've got to allow the players to build experience and understanding of the moment.”

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