Mission accomplished as Joe looks to Saturday
Published 13/11/2016 | 02:30
Against a team carrying a handful of amateurs the object of the exercise in a near-full Aviva were to get through the night with lots of daylight between the teams, to add significantly to the ranks of capped players, and to avoid injuries to the handful on duty here who will be needed again on Saturday.
Mission accomplished. Joe Schmidt confirmed afterwards that the closest thing to an injury was Finlay Bealham going off with cramp a couple of minutes before they had planned to take him off in any case. All things considered, that's as much as he could have hoped for.
And that means more time to be spent on selection. He was flanked afterwards by captain Peter O'Mahony, who declared himself pleased to get through another 80 minutes and to be part of the gaggle of back-rowers trying to get into the starting team.
"You get a gut feeling after a game and I think there's some tough decisions to make," Schmidt said. "Then you've got to crystallise those decisions with an intensive look back and get together with the other coaches. They'll put in their opinions and we'll try and judge what's the best 15, the best 23, even 25. It's tough. I think back row, back three, even front row there's some tough decisions."
Well, perhaps not that tough. The outstanding issue for the coach is what to do with Sean O'Brien and Peter O'Mahony, both of whom confirmed that they are in good enough nick again to play at this level. With Jordi Murphy out of the picture that leaves Josh van der Flier under pressure. He was excellent when coming on for Murphy in Chicago, but Schmidt goes repeatedly to those he knows best and trusts most. Against New Zealand that's likely to include O'Brien and O'Mahony, with O'Brien favourite to start at seven and O'Mahony on the bench.
"I think they'll come full strength and fully loaded," Schmidt said. "I think we might have surprised them a little bit (in Chicago) because, while a lot of people were referencing 2013, we didn't have that many starters the same. They had a lot of changes as well. Three years on it's difficult to use that as a reference point but this is a close reference point (now) and they can go back and look at that."
Lessons from that review already seem to be accepted by many as the theme for the All Blacks clash on Saturday - as in, that their backlash will overwhelm whatever Ireland have to offer, even though they are the home side and have had an extra two weeks together.
"I hope that's wrong," Schmidt said. "One of the things we do is say, 'Right, these are the things we believe might work - let's commit to this and try and put it together as best we can'. We probably get less distracted by what our opponents are doing and what they might bring. We have an awareness of that, but we'll focus on what we're doing. If you spend too much time distracted, looking externally, you risk missing precious time together to focus on what needs to be done."
Every second counts then.
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