Wary Ireland bring back the big guns
Schmidt rings changes for match against Italy Azzurri recall Parisse for game they must win
England could be out of the World Cup by the time Ireland face their first real test of this tournament, against Italy, at the Olympic Stadium tomorrow afternoon. Wary of the threat posed by the
Azzurri, who welcome back talismanic captain Sergio Parisse for what is a must-win match for them, Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has named his strongest possible lineup, with 11 changes from the team who dismantled Romania at Wembley last Sunday. And Schmidt admitted yesterday that he would happily take a scrappy win, with the result more important than the performance at this stage.
“I’d be delighted to get the result,” Schmidt said. “It’s probably not often I say that. If I’m talking to you guys on Sunday evening post-game and we’ve had a twopoint win I’d be delighted to have qualified.
“In a tournament like this performance is obviously pivotal, but I don’t think anyone’s going to complain as long as you get through to the next round and you remain alive in the tournament.
“We’re virtually now at the beginning of the knockout stages, because while it might not be fatal it would be a very serious blow if we didn’t win on Sunday and for us that would make the following week a massive pressure cooker that we massively could do without.”
After missing the wins against Canada and Romania through injury, Connacht’s Robbie Henshaw returns at inside centre, but his Six Nations partner, Jared Payne, is injured, meaning for the seventh match running Schmidt has been forced to field a different midfield partnership, with Keith Earls moving across from the wing to fill the No 13 berth. As Earls celebrated his 28th birthday on Friday, he became one of only two Irish players named to start each World Cup game.
“It’s nice to finally work with him,” Schmidt said of the player whom he had to wait 19 games in charge to see in action. “Every time he just picked up an injury prior to the bracket of games we were about to enter into.”
“It’s been great to have him in the group, I think it’s added to the real contest among those back three, middle three players.”
Elsewhere in the back division, Rob Kearney is not risked following a hip injury, meaning Simon Zebo holds on to the No 15 jersey. Tommy Bowe is preferred to Luke Fitzgerald on the wing.
In the pack, Cian Healy, still not back to full fitness following neck surgery, has had to be content with a place on the bench as Schmidt has opted for a front row of Jack McGrath, Rory Best and Mike Ross.
Iain Henderson is again the preferred partner for captain Paul O’Connell in the second row.
“It may end up being one of those sorts of attritional affairs in the first 40,” Schmidt predicted. “And then, hopefully, as the game accelerates through the last quarter you can maybe get away.
“It’s probably easier said than done when a team is fighting for their lives. They know that if they lose that their tournament is pretty much over.”
The return of the inspirational Parisse to the Italian line-up is the major plus point for Italy, who have looked far from their best in their two games thus far against France and Canada.
“He is a super player,” Schmidt said, adding that the Stade Francais player’s presence alone could turn it into a long afternoon for his men.
Centre stage: Robbie Henshaw returns at 12 for Ireland, alongside Keith Earls