Ahead of Ireland’s Rugby World Cup campaign, which will kick-off against Canada next Saturday, former international flankers Stephen Ferris and Alan Quinlan have raised concerns about the lack of physicality in Joe Schmidt’s side.
Speaking at a Q&A session at Dtwo on Dublin’s Harcourt St, hosted by sports website www.BenchWarmers.ie, Ferris felt that the power of the Irish pack paled in comparison to the one South Africa have at their disposal.
“I think after the performance against England there, that we aren’t [big enough]. I think we’re lacking physicality,” the former Ulster back row said.
“Sean O’Brien isn’t at his game at the minute. I expect him to be at his game in a couple of weeks’ time. I just think, I know he’s an Ulsterman, but Iain Henderson just brings that physicality to the Ireland side. Whether he plays in the second row, or he plays in the back row.
“I think they’re just missing that. If you could line up the Irish against the South African team, there is a massive difference in size. That’s why I fancy South Africa to go a long way in the World Cup.
“The game, the way it is now, the bigger, stronger, faster that you are, the more advantage you have, and I think that is why Cian Healy is so important to this Irish squad. Because he is so physical, he is so strong. He really can do damage at this World Cup. He’s somebody that Ireland need going forward.”
Former Munster hero Quinlan — who, along with Ferris, was part of Ireland’s squad during the forgettable 2007 finals — agreed that Ireland are vulnerable when they are matched physically, but nevertheless believes that Schmidt had a plan to counteract it.
“As Stephen said, I think the last couple of weeks have shown a little bit of vulnerability when Ireland are matched physically. I think under Joe Schmidt in the last two years; a massive pressure game, a really good kicking game, and incredibly accurate at the breakdown. When they’ve been matched in that the last two weeks, they’ve come up short.
“It happened in the Six Nations against England last year in Twickenham and in Cardiff against Wales. That’s the challenge. People have been asking me the last week, since the England game, are we in trouble? Should we be worried? We should be concerned I think, there’s no doubt, but I think they will have some stuff up their sleeves.
“Some of them need more games, but physically, as Stephen said, the bigger teams, and England are a big, strong physical team. South Africa, and that’s the worry against France as well. That physicality, that size, but I think they’ll be OK. There’s no need to panic yet. Joe Schmidt is a tough taskmaster.”
Ferris was an integral part of the squad four years ago, when Ireland won all four pool games, including a memorable triumph over Australia. He noted the importance of Ireland’s encounter against France, which takes place on October 11, but also stressed the importance of stepping up to the plate at the quarter-final stage.
“I think it’s about getting to that game [against France]. They need to perform in the first two or three games, and make sure that they hit the ground running against France. That they get off to a good start. Recently, when Ireland are trying to play catch up, they’ve struggled a bit.
“Whereas in the past couple of years, in Six Nations, Ireland have got the lead and have stuck to it and just ground teams down. It’s not about one match. In 2011, we lost all four games before going into the World Cup, and then we won the next four, and everybody had us winning the World Cup. As soon as expectation is on our shoulder, we seem to crumble a little bit.
“Once they get to that quarter-final, be it against Argentina or New Zealand, [it is important] that they don’t crumble and they get on to the next step. I believe that Joe is the right man to make sure that that doesn’t happen again,” Ferris added.
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