Larmour passes his audition to face the Pumas
Competition causing ‘really positive headaches’ for head coach Schmidt
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
Jordan Larmour makes a break past Italy’s Giulio Bisegni during the game at Soldier Field in Chicago.