| 19.5°C Dublin

Clock is ticking as boss looks to hone gameplan for World Cup

IT WILL be a case of baby steps for Ireland as Declan Kidney eases his players back into action against Andy Robinson’s Scotland at Murrayfield this Saturday.

It will also mark the first of four rapid internationals designed to bring the players up to full speed and clarify, for the management, the way forward in terms of the specific game plan and the first 15 players trusted to take Ireland into battle with Eddie O’Sullivan’s US Eagles on September 11th in New Plymouth and, critically, with Australia six days later.

The veil of secrecy slipped slightly yesterday as Jonathan Sexton reflected on the enjoyment from the amount of “ball work” the squad has been engaged in during their pre-season sessions.

Ireland are not going to overpower the likes of their pool rivals Australia and Italy or potential opponents New Zealand, South Africa, England, Argentina and France. The approach must be to go through them and around them.

There are so many questions which have to be answered; so little time in which to do it before Ireland fly to destination New Zealand for their latest opportunity to row back the tide of many disappointments at the seventh Rugby World Cup.

1. WHO WILL BE IRELAND’S OUT-HALF?

At the conclusion of the Heineken Cup, Leinster’s Sexton had moved comfortably ahead of Ronan O’Gara only for the Munster marksman to remind those who would count him out of his value in the Magners League Grand Final.

There was a time when O’Gara had it out with Ireland’s previous coach O’Sullivan over being replaced by Ulster’s David Humphreys for the ‘championship minutes’ as an international stewed in the melting pot.

The boot is on the other foot now. It is Sexton who must wonder what he has to do to convince Kidney that he has earned the right to take Ireland all the way to the finish line.

He was removed from the fray against England with 12 minutes left on the clock; brought in to preserve Ireland against Wales in the 49th minute; and given short time against Scotland. He stayed for just over an hour against France and Italy.

There is a fine balance between healthy competition for this vital place and planting a seed of doubt in the mind of Sexton. He needs Kidney to believe in him.

2. GORDON D’ARCY IS HOBBLED BY INJURY. IS IT TIME FOR FERGUS McFADDEN TO BE SELECTED INSIDE CENTRE?

Or will Brian O’Driscoll be asked to move inside?

Ireland’s twin towers of power in the centre will probably be split in two as Gordon D’Arcy contemplates the likelihood of missing out on the World Cup due to a delayed ankle operation and the claustrophobic six-week timeline back to full fitness.

The problem is that Leinster’s Fergus McFadden, for all his obvious credentials, has not demonstrated a natural passing game to put width on Ireland’s plan from the number 12 jersey.

An obvious strategy would be to move Brian O’Driscoll to the inside slot where he has the defence and the superior passing skills to make Ireland tick on the outside.

In addition, O’Driscoll’s waning speed was exploited twice by Northampton’s Ben Foden in the Heineken Cup final, albeit at a time when the Irish captain was struggling with injury.

Anyway, this would create room for Tommy Bowe, on his way back from an ankle injury, or Keith Earls to be sprung at 13, creating an element of surprise against Australia.

Bowe has the physique and the rounded distribution to unlock any defence.

3. CAN STEPHEN FERRIS MAKE THE IMPACT IRELAND NEEDED IN THE BACK ROW?

The explosion of Sean O’Brien onto the club and international scene came as something of a surprise to the Irish management last season.

Otherwise, they would have given him more than a miserly 80 minutes against Samoa last November.

The demise of Stephen Ferris from a knee injury vaulted O’Brien into the spotlight for which he was made.

Worryingly, Ferris revealed last season that there is now no cartilage remaining in his knee, excruciatingly allowing for bone-on-bone pain when the right hit arrives at the right angle.

While Ireland has benefited from the emergence of O’Brien, the Tullow tank is sure to be a marked man in New Zealand. Australia will have a plan. His name is Rocky Elsom. Ireland need to vary their carriers around the fringes and Ferris can make an almighty impact from the bench as a feared and respected opponent.

It remains to be seen whether he can overcome his latest serious setback.

IRELAND’S PRE-WORLD CUP PROGRAMME

Saturday, August 1 - Scotland v IRELAND, Murrayfield, 2.15pm.

Saturday, August 13 – France v IRELAND, Chaban Delmas, Bordeaux 8.45pm.

Saturday, August 20 – IRELAND v France, The Aviva Stadium, 5.0pm.

Saturday, August 27 - IRELAND v England, The Aviva Stadium, 2.30pm.

IRELAND’S WORLD CUP POOL MATCHES

Sunday, September 11 – IRELAND v USA, Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth (6.0pm local time).

Saturday, September 17 – IRELAND v Australia, Eden Park, Auckland (8.30pm local time).

Sunday, September 25 – IRELAND v Russia, International Stadium, Rotorua (6.0pm local time).

Sunday, October 11 – IRELAND v Italy, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin (8.30pm local time).


Privacy