Tuesday 20 February 2018

2019 vision driving Ireland's desire for greater depth

Ireland assistant coach Richie Murphy. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ireland assistant coach Richie Murphy. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Change is in the air out in Carton House as Joe Schmidt targets greater squad depth.

This week's clash with Fiji has been earmarked for new faces to make an impression and, after so many of the newcomers impressed against South Africa, there is increased comfort in their capabilities.

The schedule for the 2019 World Cup has only heightened the need. Schmidt's side's first two games, against their main pool rivals Scotland and Japan, take place within six days of each other and he would be reticent to go with the same starting XV within such a short window.

So, he is continuing his pursuit of a squad he can trust.

The spectre of the 2015 World Cup exit at the hands of Argentina looms over everything he does in between. Losing five key players in the build-up to the Cardiff clash cost his side dear.

Next week, a diminished Pumas team come to Dublin for the first meeting of the teams since that disappointing day beneath the Millennium Stadium roof and it appears Schmidt will roll out of his big guns for a November finale that might just exorcise some demons.

In between, the head coach will delve into his squad and see what some of the younger guns have got against the Fijians.

"With a six-day turnaround you could change it up or you could have a similar team, but the more players we have in the squad that we feel really comfortable with, the better," assistant coach Richie Murphy said yesterday.

"Like, let's be honest, it just makes it easier and I think it's a 31-man panel for the World Cup still, and we want everyone who is going on that to be able to cover comfortably every position.

"If you can get two people in every position well then you're going to be flying.

"At the last World Cup there were other things... Argentina had the opportunity to rest their best players the week before, all those things adding into what was quite a disappointing day.

"It was a very difficult situation to be in, we lost five guys just before the game.

"No matter what you've done, that was always going to be a difficult situation. The squad, as it is now, if we lost five top guys we'd still struggle.

"But the players have come up behind and it's been the way it is, the academies are producing the players, the players are coming into the senior teams and then on to the national team so we're not in a bad place."

Schmidt picked an inexperienced bench for last week's win over South Africa, but they repaid his faith in spades.

Jacob Stockdale's try was the best example, as Darren Sweetnam picked Joey Carbery's chip off his bootlaces, Kieran Marmion did well to keep the ball alive, James Ryan carried hard and Dave Kilcoyne's neat pull-back created the space for the replacement out-half to send the ball wide for the try.

The skills on display, exemplified by the former Cork hurler, were a fine tribute to the work being overseen by Murphy in his role as national skills and kicking coach.

"It was an incredible pick-up almost at full pace, to be able to bend down and pick the ball up - that is a real piece of skill," he said. "He's shown some really good glimpses in training over the last two weeks.

"So, you know, Darren's definitely going in the right direction.

"The academies that are there, all those guys are getting exposed to higher-level coaching, probably younger, which is going to help the skill level. But the mentality is probably the biggest thing. You either want to do it or you don't.

"That's what we're doing really well, guys are coming in with the right attitude and working really hard. Because of that their skill level is shining through."

Carbery could step in for Johnny Sexton on Saturday to build on the good work he put in against the Boks, with Marmion taking over from Conor Murray. And Murphy wants them to play their own game and not mimic the illustrious men they're replacing.

"They're two very different players to the other two guys who are in front of them, some of the strengths, some of the things that Joey does, he does better than Johnny, and the same in relation to Kieran and Conor.

"But they're completely different players, they've got different strengths.

"I think when they come in they can see the attention to detail - how diligent the other two are, and that's a really good thing for them to learn.

"After that, once they understand what's involved in running the team it's up to them to go out and let their natural game come through because there's no point in them going out there thinking they're Conor and Johnny, it won't suit their game."

Michael Bent has been called into the squad as cover, while Kilcoyne and James Ryan are doubts for this weekend's game after missing training yesterday.

Irish Independent

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