Saturday 10 December 2016

No Cubs omens for focused Schmidt

After Chicago's baseball team ended long wait, it's Ireland's turn to make history

Published 04/11/2016 | 02:30

Luke McGrath carries team-mate Jonathan Sexton during training at University of Illinois in Chicago yesterday. Picture: Sportsfile
Luke McGrath carries team-mate Jonathan Sexton during training at University of Illinois in Chicago yesterday. Picture: Sportsfile

This afternoon, Chicago will come to a stand-still as the locals hail their heroic Cubs, who ended a 108-year wait for the World Series on Wednesday night.

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A day later, the Irish rugby team will look to end their own hoodoo at Soldier Field as they look to beat New Zealand for the first time since they took them on in 1905.

Click to view full size graphic
Click to view full size graphic

Twenty-eight times since, the teams have taken the field and 27 times the All Blacks won. The 1973 draw at Lansdowne Road is the one anomaly, but there is no 'W' in Ireland's column.

Read more: Schmidt set to go with experience for Chicago clash against All Blacks as Kearney set for start

They have two chances to beat the world champions in the next three weeks, but with Steve Hansen's side on an 18-match winning run, Joe Schmidt isn't putting too much faith in fate.

"Gee, I'd love to believe in omens, but I don't. I'm not superstitious at all," Schmidt said after naming an experienced side for the clash.

"1908 is pretty similar to 1905 but I think the similarities pretty much stop there. If we played them at baseball, I think they're pretty good at baseball as well.

"I know their High Performance manager Don Tricker was the New Zealand softball coach and highly successful, coaching them to world championships. So they've probably even done a bit of that and are pretty good at it!

"I think we'll just try to play rugby against them and whatever happens, as a group we're looking forward to what we can learn from the game and how we can build from the game as a result of the effort we put in, the learnings we take, and hopefully for the next three weeks we can see some evidence of that.

"And certainly into the Six Nations we would like to get back into the top end of that, certainly into that top two."

Schmidt and his squad are aware of the historical context, but their focus is on the job at hand.

"A lot has happened since then, two World Wars, lot of other stuff," Donnacha Ryan said.

"At the end of the day, from our point of view, we have got to narrow our focus on our own jobs. It is a novelty to us being here.

"Bringing up history is great but creating our own history is the ultimate challenge. That determines our mindset leading into the game.

"What happened here in the city was amazing. I am still sorting out the jet-lag but it was great to see it.

"I wouldn't be overly familiar with baseball in general but the atmosphere around the street was brilliant and there is supposed to be a big parade on tomorrow. So it is great to be here, soaking it all in."

The 24-22 defeat from 2013 has been a clear reference point this week, but interestingly both Schmidt and Ryan brought up the 2012 tour in which Ireland came close to ending the hoodoo in Christchurch, losing to a late Dan Carter drop-goal, before losing 60-0 in Hamilton a week later.

"I was a spectator watching in Auckland five years ago when Ireland were relatively well beaten at Eden Park but then went to Christchurch and almost beat the All Blacks," Schmidt recalled.

"Then the All Blacks had a few injuries and it looked like a fantastic opportunity for Ireland and 60-0 later guys announce themselves on the international stage, the likes of Aaron Cruden with a freakish offload to Sonny Bill Williams running a close line off him early in the game, and that just continued in that vein.

Achieved

"Guys like Dane Coles, he was a new fresh face on that tour in 2013 and look what he's achieved since. I mean, I think he'd survive at No 12 let alone No 2. He'd do a super job and that's not disrespecting the job he does in the tight as well.

"Every day is a new challenge. And you mentioned the Cubs, people wrote the Cubs off at 3-1 down and they picked them up and got the result.

"And we're going to see the response of the city tomorrow with the mid-day parade, so I don't think we're going to be moving around too much tomorrow afternoon, in the centre of the city and all the way out to Soldier Field it's going to be pretty cluttered with potentially a million people."

As a survivor of the Hamilton horror show, Ryan is fully aware of what the world champions can do if Ireland are off their game.

"I was not feeling the Mae West going into that game," he recalled. "We had a good performance in Christchurch the week before and it was just . . . we tried so hard that night and got nothing out of it.

"Looking at the game over and over again, the harder we tried, the worse it got. That is just the type of team they are, their philosophy on how they play the game.

"It just goes to show you need to be on top of your game and on your detail."

Schmidt's decision to select Rob Kearney at full-back and switch Jared Payne back to outside centre was largely down to the Leinster man's experience.

Read more: 'We're a hell of a lot stronger mentally than 2013' - Murray

Garry Ringrose and Joey Carbery are in line for their debuts off the bench and the coach described it s a "baptism of fire" for the pair of 21-year-olds.

"There were a number of variables involved in that, including the balance of what was coming off the bench and what we had starting," Schmidt said.

"We have tried to go with a little bit of experience, just because of the magnitude of the game and the quality of the opposition.

"That's a starting point for us, and once those younger guys do get on, that will give us an opportunity to assess them a little bit against a very, very high standard of opposition.

"At the same time it will give them an idea of what it's like to play at the very, very top level."

With the bookies rating Ireland's chances at 13/1, there is not much belief outside the squad but there's a quiet confidence within.

"I've played against them four times before and it is high paced, high level of skill and they are a very powerful team. They don't really give you many opportunities to break them down," Ryan said.

"It is a fantastic challenge but that's why you play the game."

Irish Independent

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