Schmidt: I will not dwell on past failures
Ireland coach says 2015 is not to be mentioned Squad determined to ‘hit the ground running’
One of Ireland’s training sessions was briefly interrupted this week when smoke started issuing from a building next to the pitch in Chiba. It turned out to be a fire station doing practice drills. A false alarm.
It is Ireland who need to catch fire now. Joe Schmidt admitted as much yesterday, stressing that his team had to “hit the ground running” at this World Cup as he named his strongest available team to face Scotland in their Pool A opener at Yokohama International Stadium tomorrow.
Schmidt was talking about the differences between this campaign and Ireland’s last one four years ago, and the lessons he learned.
“It’s so different because we didn’t start with the same level of match last time,” the New Zealander said. “And that’s no disrespect to Canada. But they weren’t a big tier one opponent where the players know each other really well. I think that familiarity makes us a little nervous and probably makes Scotland a little nervous.
“This time we definitely have to hit the ground running. This is the equivalent of the France game from last time, but first up.”
Schmidt has named his strongest available team, but not his strongest possible team. Jordan Larmour and Andrew Conway come in for Rob Kearney and Keith Earls, who were always unlikely to make it back from niggling injuries despite Ireland’s protestations midweek that they would be fit.
Those are significant changes. While both Larmour and Conway are exciting players – Schmidt spoke of the “contagious” exuberance they could bring – Ireland’s back three of Larmour, Conway and Jacob Stockdale does suddenly feel a lot more vulnerable, particularly given the weather forecast for rain. Greig Laidlaw and Finn Russell will no doubt look to test them early on.
Schmidt will hope that his forward pack can bully Scotland’s, allowing Ireland to control the contest at source. And a front row of Cian Healey, Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong, and a second row of Iain Henderson and James Ryan does look more than a match for Scotland’s tight five.
He will then rely on Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton – a classic double act, albeit one that feels like it has not performed for quite a while – to make the most of the ball they are given. Rather incredibly, Murray is the only survivor from the backline that last featured for Ireland at a World Cup, in their quarter-final defeat by Argentina four years ago.
That statistic is slightly misleading as there were plenty of injuries then and now. But it does highlight that this is a relatively new squad. In fact of the match day 23, eight of Ireland’s starters and the entirety of their bench have never played in a World Cup match.
Ireland will hope that the new players, untainted by the failures of the past, will manage to go further than their predecessors. In any case, Murray said it would be foolish to keep harking back to 2015. “This is a different group,” he stressed. “I’ve talked about it any time I’ve done media before the World Cup – the last four years and what we have done and the results we have had. It would be foolish of us now to start talking about 2015 within the group.”
Ireland know they have a golden opportunity but it depends on them making a good start. If they can win tomorrow’s game against Scotland, and then see off Japan next week, they should win the pool comfortably, given their last two games are against Russia and Samoa. Topping the pool would also give them an extra day to prepare for either New Zealand or South Africa, depending on the outcome of today’s match between the Pool B heavyweights.
“If we go into that quarter-final we’d love to get that extra day to prepare for it, regardless of who that opponent will be,” he said.
“We’ll have a better idea later potentially who that opponent will be with ourselves, Scotland or Japan topping the pool. But to have a chance we must hit the ground running against Scotland.”