Friday 20 October 2017

'Joe Schmidt voted for team morale, among other things, in retaining only three starters from the win over Canada in Cardiff last weekend'

Ireland v Romania, 4.45 (TV3 & ITV)

Joe Schmidt made sweeping changes to the squad that beat Canada
Joe Schmidt made sweeping changes to the squad that beat Canada
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Take your pick: the very fatigued Romanian players who were drilled by France in the final quarter in Olympic Park on Wednesday night; or the lads brought in to replace eight of them today, ie the second-stringers. Then ask yourself how long either group will be able to hold out against an Ireland side who have spent plenty of time off their feet in the last week, preparing for the next fortnight.

Then factor in the attitude of those in green who will be making their first start in this tournament. Joe Schmidt voted for team morale, among other things, in retaining only three starters from the win over Canada in Cardiff last weekend. By close of business this evening, only the hamstrung Robbie Henshaw should be without game time in the 31-man squad.

Next consider where each country is coming from. Romania operate in a different sporting galaxy: before the defeat by France last week, their last game against a Tier 1 nation was in the 2011 World Cup, when England dumped 67 points on them in Dunedin.

Ireland, on the other hand, are primed and ready to explode. The bookies expect them to deliver a 40-point gap, which looks conservative. If the performance against Canada is an accurate yardstick then the players will be allowed to explore the menu a bit more than in the warm-up series, so there should be some a la carte on offer. Simon Zebo, however, is on message about the target not being a points-fest.

"No, we don't feel like that," he says. "We feel like we have to go out and win the game first. They showed that they can easily upset anyone who's not on their game and they posed a lot of problems for France. They caused a lot of turnovers in the first half and could have had a few more scores in that first half, so y'know, we've got to go out there and match them physically because they're a very physical side.

"They love the contact area. If we're not on our game, we could get bullied, so we've got to go out there and hopefully match them and surpass them." If Ireland get bullied by this lot then there will be a lot of Paddies hastily revising their travel plans. Rather, there are a few opportunities to be snapped up. With that in mind, this is a great stage for Ian Madigan, in what is expected to be good weather on a fast track.

Behind the scrum, Tommy Bowe's need to impress is clearly greatest, but you'd imagine Darren Cave will fill his boots as well. Barring injury, this will be the Ulster centre's only spin at the World Cup, so whatever he has to offer would have to be left on the pitch.

Devin Toner is in a different boat to Cave, but the going has got pretty rough for him lately because of the excellence of Iain Henderson. That, plus the buzz of a World Cup, will have him on high alert.

"Of course, there's opportunity for everybody," says Zebo. "The 31 picked at the start - the probability is that not everyone will finish the tournament, so there's opportunity for everybody, even the people still at home. Everybody has to be used and it's an opportunity each week, if you're picked in the 23, to go out to first of all represent your country and put up your hand for selection for the later stages."

Romania's wish list doesn't extend beyond the next round, against Canada, in Leicester in nine days' time. Ireland's vision goes a bit further than that.

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