Lar­mour passes his au­di­tion to face the Pu­mas

Com­pe­ti­tion caus­ing ‘really pos­i­tive headaches’ for head coach Sch­midt

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - Gerry Thorn­ley Rugby Cor­re­spon­dent, in Chicago

Jor­dan Lar­mour’s scin­til­lat­ing foot­work and try-scor­ing ex­ploits didn’t just sal­vage an oth­er­wise ho-hum, hum­drum day in Chicago’s Sol­dier Field, but could also prove par­tic­u­larly timely given Rob Kear­ney is the only player in the 42-man squad con­sid­ered doubt­ful for next Satur­day’s meet­ing with Ar­gentina at the Aviva Sta­dium.

In the af­ter­math of Satur­day’s 54-7 win over Italy, Joe Sch­midt seemed to sug­gest the odds are against Kear­ney re­cov­er­ing from the shoul­der in­jury he picked up in Le­in­ster’s win away to Benet­ton last Satur­day week.

“Rob, he’d be a chance. I think he prob­a­bly will strug­gle to make Tues­day’s train­ing, which might mean that Satur­day might be too soon for him, but I’ll have a bet­ter idea once I hit the ground on Mon­day morn­ing and touch base with them. He’ll be straight into camp, and I’ll catch up with him then and so will the medics, and we’ll make a de­ci­sion on the back of that.”

Lar­mour re­placed Kear­ney for the fi­nal quar­ter of the third Test in Syd­ney, but the lat­ter was ef­fec­tively an ever-present last sea­son, start­ing 10 of 11 games.

The ex­cep­tion was the Novem­ber Test against Fiji, when An­drew Con­way deputised. Kear­ney has started 17 of Ire­land’s 19 games over the last two sea­sons, and the only Test he has missed against a tier one coun­try in that time was in the 2017 Six Na­tions fi­nale at home to Eng­land. The now re­tired Jared Payne wore “15” that day. No less than Conor Mur­ray, Ire­land needs to un­cover some op­tions with the World Cup in mind.

In any case, Sch­midt ac­knowl­edged that Lar­mour’s per­for­mance was timely.

“Yeah, Jor­dan knew that there was a win­dow of op­por­tu­nity, so he wanted to open it rea­son­ably wide and then crawl through it, which he did for three tries. So he did that pretty well.

“He just has a con­ta­gious en­thu­si­asm on the pitch, which is great. And in be­hind what you see on the pitch he works really hard, which is really pos­i­tive as well. Some of the bits of the game that aren’t quite as vis­i­ble he does a really good job of.”

As to what might be Lar­mour’s best po­si­tion, even Sch­midt is un­cer­tain.

Free­dom

“That’s a really good ques­tion be­cause we’re still try­ing to work it out. I’m not sure. I think the free­dom he gets at full-back is quite neat be­cause he can play ei­ther side of the pitch. But you saw him on the wing at the end, and if we can create a bit of space for him he’s in­cred­i­bly dan­ger­ous.

“In the first half when he opened them up and sort of handed that ball off to Luke McGrath for the try he demon­strated he does both really well. So that’s one of the co­nun­drums for us.

“Ja­cob and Keith Earls are two guys who have been in su­per form for us, and An­drew Con­way has played a fair bit for us as well. So there’s some good com­pe­ti­tion, and they are the really pos­i­tive headaches for you as a coach.”

All that be­ing said, and in Lar­mour’s case done, un­sur­pris­ingly Sch­midt was keen for ev­ery­one to cool the jets. Asked what ceil­ing there might be on the 21-year-old’s ca­reer, the Ir­ish head coach said: “It’s hard to tell in a game like that. They [Italy] slipped off a fair few tack­les at the end, and I wouldn’t en­vis­age the Ar­gen­tini­ans slip­ping off some of those tack­les. They de­fend really well. They chase the chance really well, par­tic­u­larly the guys com­ing out of the mid­field.

“So, it’s some­thing that you don’t really talk about – ceil­ings. You talk about in­cre­men­tally grow­ing, and so far he’s in­cre­men­tally taken a step each time that we’ve asked him to really.”

Windy City

Sch­midt also con­firmed that Pe­ter O’Ma­hony trained fully last week, and was not a doubt for the up­com­ing back-to-back games against teams from the Rugby Cham­pi­onship.

This jaunt to the windy city against a sec­ond string Italy was hardly ideal prepa­ra­tion, which is partly why Sch­midt re­mained in Car­ton House un­til Wed­nes­day with the play­ers kept be­hind.

“I’m never happy. I’d like more time. I’d like to have maybe spent eight days in Por­tu­gal, prob­a­bly on hol­i­day with­out the team. But at the same time I think those are op­por­tu­ni­ties to keep build­ing. We have to con­dense those into two train­ings this week.”

“We don’t ar­rive back un­til Mon­day, so Tues­day is the ear­li­est we will train. Some of these guys will need to be looked af­ter a lit­tle bit af­ter catch­ing up with jet lag. Then train Thurs­day, and I think Ar­gentina, it’s go­ing to be a heck of a game.

“I really think they are com­ing fully loaded, com­ing fully fresh. They have had a great win­dow to prep them­selves, so from that per­spec­tive I think the full house that you men­tioned in the Aviva, I hope they are go­ing to get value for money. I think you are go­ing to get two teams go­ing toe-to-toe at a pretty high level. I’m hop­ing.”

Sig­nif­i­cant value

None­the­less, in the longer term Chicago still had sig­nif­i­cant value for Sch­midt be­yond Lar­mour’s ex­ploits, not least a first Test start for Tadhg Beirne which, with two tries, would have been the head­line act on any other day, and test de­buts for Ross Byrne and Will Ad­di­son.

“Ab­so­lutely. I think I said on Thurs­day these are really pre­cious op­por­tu­ni­ties,” said Sch­midt, who pointed to the lim­ited prepa­ra­tion time this re­mod­elled team had to­gether be­fore ex­pect­ing it all to gel.

“It’s still some­thing we ex­pect to hap­pen be­cause if we don’t create that ex­pec­ta­tion you’re not go­ing to get it, but it takes a bit of time to grow into the game.

“This game was a chance to evolve Will Ad­di­son and Ross Byrne. It was an op­por­tu­nity to give Tadhg Beirne a start. I thought Quinn Roux’s work rate was su­per in the game and he was very phys­i­cal.

“Dave Kil­coyne and Fin­lay Beal­ham were very phys­i­cal. That hit in the mid­dle of the field. That’s the sort of thing that you’re look­ing for. Sean Cronin came off the bench, and was really dy­namic for us. I think those guys com­ing off the bench made a really pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tion. It was an op­por­tu­nity to get them in­volved and learn a few les­sons.”

Les­sons learned. Now comes the se­ri­ous stuff in this Novem­ber win­dow.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: TANNEN MAURY/EPA

Jor­dan Lar­mour makes a break past Italy’s Gi­ulio Bisegni dur­ing the game at Sol­dier Field in Chicago.

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