Ireland’s World Cup to do list:
With the World Cup starting mid September our front line players will need to get match hard and match fit in the national rather than their provincial jerseys. Ireland have organised a comprehensive pre-World Cup fixture list and we play four quality opponents before the competition starts. We are also fortunate in that our World Cup campaign starts with the easier fixtures (on paper) against Canada, Romania and Italy. Hopefully that means we have seven matches to get us locked and loaded for the key pool clash against the French in Cardiff. Ireland have a date against the Barbarians in Thomond Park in May and I think that tie should be used to have a look at some of fringe players. After that it is all about building momentum and getting players into familiar combinations.
Manage the monotony
Ireland have a brilliant base inCarton House but it is great to get out around the country and mix up the training venues and content. Ireland are now going into their third season under Joe Schmidt and the players will be very familiar with his philosophies, game plans and also the calls and codes they will use. Allowing the players to get time in their own beds and with their families in the build up is important before the enter the World Cup bubble. The squad will appoint an Entertainment Committee to organise little social events and outings. This is vital on two fronts — firstly it builds team spirit and crucially it provides a distraction from the pressures and expectation. Ireland made the mistake of staying in a poor hotel in Bordeaux in 2007 with average food and in an isolated location. Schmidt is too organised to allow that happen again.
Search for our weaknesses
We are very lucky to have one of the smartest rugby brains in the world as our head coach. He has an unnerving knack of zooming in on the weaknesses of opposition side. As back-to-back Six Nations champions and having lowered the colours of the Springboks and Wallabies in November the spotlight is now going to be on us. Opposition management teams will pour over our tapes to see where they can hurt us and you can be sure the referees will also be well versed in our playing style. Our record of conceding very few penalties (an average of 7 per match) will have been noted and we will have to be careful how referees and opposition teams react to that. Schmidt and his management team already do that by analysing who and how many “Outlaws” they have each match. An “Outlaw” is someone guilty of a penalty offence — but one that was missed by the officials.
This Six Nations has seen us replace Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll with two players that can hopefully build a similar relationship in terms of productivity and longevity in Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne.
Payne came in for some criticism after the defeat to Wales but he is a very good player who will improve with more big game exposure. Down the line we need to find a back up to Conor Murray but in terms of this World Cup Eoin Reddan and Isaac Boss will serve us well.
In the back row we have great depth and Henderson, O’Donnell and Murphy all performed well in the Six Nations when called upon and behind them we have players chomping at the bit.
Mike Ross had a good tournament and responded well to having lost his place in the Leinster 23 in January. Marty Moore is up to the task and if Nathan White can get an injury free run then he will probably fill in as third choice tighthead. It’s great to see Donncha Ryan on the comeback trail and he would be a great addition to our World Cup squad. Jack McGrath, Cian Healy and James Cronin or Dave Kilcoyne gives us real depth on the other side and our scrum has improved massively from our dip in November.
Jonny Sexton’s health is crucial to our team but that reliance on the first choice out-half is a common theme for those heading to the World Cup.
Manage the expectation
Irish rugby teams have historically struggled with hype and expectation. This team seems to be able to handle the favourite’s tag but Schmidt will be conscious that the World Cup brings different pressures. Former Armagh All-Ireland winner and sports psychologist Enda McNulty will be a busy man. But the leaders in the squad like O’Connell, Best, Murray, Sexton and Kearney will have huge roles to play in making sure we are in the right place mentally to play to our undoubted potential.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved