DAVID BARNES in YOKOHAMA
IRELAND head coach Joe Schmidt says that Sunday’s World Cup opener against Scotland is too tight to call, and believes it could come down to the bounce of the ball or one team being marginally more accurate at a key moment.
The New Zealander, who will step down from his current role after the World Cup, believes his team is as ready as they will ever be – despite a few injury issues this week – but is taking nothing for granted.
“One thing I am really confident of is that we will be tough to beat – you will see a very collective effort, and that effort will make us tough to beat,” he said. “But, no doubt, the Scots will be working away to be something similar. I don’t think there is a huge amount between the two teams, so whoever does get the bounce of the ball or is just a little but more efficient than the other, will tip the balance.
“There are certainly things that you do hold back. I have no doubt we’ll see something from Scotland we haven’t seen before, so both teams will be trying to put pressure on each other so that whatever they have got planned isn’t quite as effective as they hoped.”
Schmidt played down the suggestion that the predicted wet weather will suit his team better than Scotland. “You just have to adapt to the conditions and I’m pretty sure that they will adapt as well,” he said. “If Greig Laidlaw is at scrum-half, he is a very professional kicker, and we know that when it does rain points become that little bit more valuable because they are harder to get, so he could be very useful for him there too.
“We know that Finn Russell has a huge variety in his kicking game and he’ll be a threat, and then there is the length of Stuart Hogg‘s kicking game. So, in the end, when you match it up with us, with the likes of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton, I don’t think there is too much between the teams – wet or dry.
The head coach named his team for the match at the squad hotel in Yokohama at lunchtime local time, making five changes to the side which beat Wales in their final warm-up match.
Three of those changes are enforced. Robbie Henshaw was ruled out earlier this week with a hamstring twinge and has been replaced by Garry Ringrose, while full-back Rob Kearney [calf] and winger Keith Earls [knee] have lost their race against time to be match fit, and have been replaced by Jordan Lamour and Andrew Conway.
The two other changes come in the pack where Iain Henderson will partner James Ryan in the second-row at the expense of Jean Kleyn, while Jack Conan misses out in the back-row, where CJ Stander switches from blindside to No8 to accommodate the return of Peter O’Mahony.
Schmidt explained that the final call in the back came down to selecting players who had been able to train all week, as opposed to those who were racing to make it.
“Joey [Carberry] will run fully in the warm-up as a reserve back, he’s trained really well this week. I think Keith Earls was the sharpest player at training on Wednesday, so he’s good. Rob Kearney trained well as well. So, it was really just that we were getting tight for time and the best continuity we had was to have the guys who trained through the time we have been here,” he said.
“It is exciting to have the back three we’ve got, as well. It is a great opportunity and a fantastic challenge for them. Their enthusiasm is contagious and they have the ability to get themselves into the game,” the coach added, before highlighting the ability of those players in the air.
“Andrew has proven he has got real aerial ability and that will be pretty useful for us, and I still have the vision in my mind of Jordan beating Israel Folau to the ball in the air during the third Test in Sydney on our tour to Australia last year, and Jacob is, of course, a big man in the back field. So they are all feeding off each other – they are all young men who are very eager to impress.”
Ireland (team to play Scotland at International Stadium Yokohama on Sunday at 4.45pm local time – 8.45am): J Larmour; A Conway, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best©, T Furlong, I Henderson, J Ryan, P O’Mahony, J van der Flier, CJ Stander. Replacement: N Scannell, D Kilcoyne, A Porter, T Beirne, J Conan, L McGrath, J Carty, C Farrell.