However one-sided this World Cup match-up between Ireland and Canada appears there will be plenty to occupy Joe Schmidt’s thoughts during today’s Pool D opening encounter.
Respect is being properly paid to the Canadians, led by Clermont’s powerhouse lock Jamie Cudmore and coached by former All Black Kieran Crowley, and their counter-attacking threats in Wales-based wings Jeff Hassler and DTH van der Merwe duly noted.
Yet this is a game Ireland can and should win handily and having lost the last two pre-tournament Tests against Wales and England, Schmidt will be seeking a more cohesive, less error-ridden performance from his charges than they put in at both the Aviva Stadium and Twickenham.
Getting tighter in defence, conceding fewer penalties and becoming more clinical in attack will be top of the priority list but Schmidt is far from panicky about his players’ readiness for the campaign.
“One of the things as a coach is people sometimes say to you ‘how are the boys going’ or ‘how are the lads’ you say ‘well, they are healthy’. There is obviously motivation available for them, internally they will be motivated and they trained well,” Schmidt said. “There are some things that were disappointing in those last couple of games but there were some things in those last couple of games that were real strengths and unfortunately one of those strengths (the scrum) in one of the games was... quite tough for us at scrum-time against Wales.
“But against England we demonstrated that our scrum was a really strong place for us to go and our defence hasn’t been as good as it needs to be, we conceded (three) tries across the five games, I think the Six Nations before that we conceded four tries and scored 16 so I don’t think that it suddenly turned bad. I think the systems are good.” Defence coach Les Kiss acknowledged his particular system needs to be better executed after conceding nine tries in four summer Tests and facing a physical Canadian side with excellent strike runners in van der Merwe and Hassler.
“I think that we know what we’ve been doing to build it slowly but surely,” Kiss said. “The combinations we had in the game were a little bit different to what we’re used to. I’ve no doubt that the more time they get on the training pitch and in game time, they’ll be in front of the little things that we’re just not quite right.
“We firmly believe there are no real issues. Make your tackles, commit to the system and we’re in a pretty good place.
“Historically we’ve been pretty good in defence and it’s a massive part of our game. We need to step up against this Canadian side. It’s well written and well recognised that they have a sevens pedigree about them and that includes some of their back-row forwards. They’re handy footballers. We need to be on top of that part of our game for sure. We’ve progressed well in our defence.
“The feedback that we’ve been giving the players has been solid, stern at times. We’re looking for a really good response.”
Schmidt is confident that response will be delivered. He likes what he sees when he looks into the eyes of his players and counts their caps.
“It’s experience of the guys who have been there. Paul (O’Connell) has been to four World Cups, there are a number of guys who have been three times — the likes of Rory Best — and I suppose the things that do give us confidence is that we’ve got through that pre-World Cup phase and, you never want to lose, but we’ve put a few things together that we’ve wanted to see and a few things that we haven’t done well enough.
“We feel we’ve a few solutions up our sleeve and if you look back at that England game, they were probably unlucky not to score another couple of tries but one time certainly was a forward pass and another was a forward transfer. “So, that’s the reality of it, but for us at the same time we created a couple of nice overlaps that we didn’t convert either. There was one time that we had Simon (Zebo) matched with Dan Cole, (Chris) Robshaw and Anthony Watson and we had four on three there and didn’t convert it. We’ve worked things like that.
“Creating chances doesn’t win games, you’ve got to convert enough of them to get enough scores on the board to apply scoreboard pressure and get the differential on the scoreboard to take the ‘W’ away.”
The preparations are at an end. There is long road to travel these next four weeks and much stiffer examinations of Ireland’s credentials as genuine World Cup contenders, not least the likely pool decider against France back here under the Millennium Stadium roof on October 11. The journey starts in earnest today and Schmidt needs to see his team hit the ground running and provide him with a performance to set a suitably high baseline from which to launch this campaign.
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