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Lesser lights must stay switched on to catch Schmidt's eye


Munster second-row Dave Foley, making his Ireland debut against Georgia today, is one of the players looking to impress Joe Schmidt. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Munster second-row Dave Foley, making his Ireland debut against Georgia today, is one of the players looking to impress Joe Schmidt. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE


Munster second-row Dave Foley, making his Ireland debut against Georgia today, is one of the players looking to impress Joe Schmidt. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

By any standard last week's unexpected win over the Springboks was exceptional. Not perfect - as alluded to in the flash interviews by Paul O'Connell post-match - but one hell of a starting point and a significant springboard to launch the 2015 World Cup campaign.

No one is losing the run of themselves and all the right things are being said, yet there is a danger lurking within.

Much of the video analysis and practical preparation will have focussed on the set-piece - both scrum and lineout - and in improving the quality and quantity of primary possession.

There may be another forward juggernaut coming our way but if we are where we think we are, are we will deal with it accordingly.

The extent of the challenge, specifically in the scrum and on the back of the rolling maul, needs little elaboration other than to assume Simon Easterby and Greg Feek to have been doing their thing in that regard.

No, the issue here, and the danger to which I refer, is in the top two inches. The real challenge today is mental. It's easy to say that if you can't get it right when wearing green then you shouldn't be wearing the jersey at all.

Reaching that optimum level of preparation when facing the big southern hemisphere three or indeed any of the other five in the Six Nations is easy.


Fronting up to less familiar, less highly ranked opposition presents a different sort of challenge and that is the test for Joe Schmidt and everybody involved now.

Mentally and psychologically the South African game looked after itself, as indeed will the Australian Test this day week, but this game today is different.

Different because a nation now expects. Ticket sales have been quite extraordinary, and let's not mince words here, for the lesser Test of the three. The aspiration before kicking off our November series was two wins from three, with the meat in the sandwich (Georgia) the banker.

Suddenly the emphasis has shifted to an autumn clean sweep, with today's Test against tier two opposition still seen as a foregone conclusion.

Should it be any different? No, but does this new-found confidence make it any easier? No.

For Schmidt, Les Kiss and the rest it's about marrying what went before with the needs of today and not being distracted by future games.

Schmidt's mantra is the here and now. He will have been banging that drum loudest all week. Get it right upstairs, tweak the set-piece and there can be but one realistic outcome.

For Georgia the parallel with Ireland against the Boks holds. We were rank outsiders in a two-horse race but we turned that supposed psychological disadvantage into quite the opposite.

The Aviva crowd sensed something was happening and lo and behold the interplay between players and spectators was like the Lansdowne Road of old.

The boot today could be on the other foot if, as in Bordeaux in 2007, we let the Georgians in. Saying and doing can be polar opposites unless the mind is right, and therein lies the biggest test of all for this newly assembled squad this afternoon.

So what can we expect? Well, as ever Schmidt has picked and prepared a side geared to perform. The bar has been set, so weather allowing, winning ugly is not acceptable. That is not just me saying that, it is very much the public mindset.

Last week was about guts and spirit and digging deep but it was also about outfoxing higher-ranked opposition. Here was an Irish team thinking on its feet and visibly belying mid-match statistics. I struggle to recall that happening before.

The win over Australia at the last World Cup still stands as the best ever for me, but fantastic though that was, it was more about adapting to the conditions than the opposition.

Against South Africa, despite technical imperfections, it was as close as it gets to tactical utopia. Better than beating the Wallabies ? Given the context, no, but a new and welcome departure for Irish rugby for sure.

The danger is in believing our own hype and therein lies the most obvious threat today.

We know what Georgia will bring to the table and they'll not deviate one iota.

The object is to meet the guaranteed physicality head on - in a different way to the Boks - but build on more plentiful possession in a more scenic yet still pragmatic way. In Schmidt we trust.

The side picked is a fine balance between exuberance and experience. It is appropriate to the opposition and the occasion.

The overall objective is long term geared specifically towards the World Cup and in adding to a growing pool of players.

Does that mean a rookie tour de force will be overlooked in the context of the Wallabies next up? Even by Schmidt's gut-driven standards I would think yes.

I suspect the XV for the Michael Cheika-led challenge to be pretty much in place in the head coach's mind, with one maybe two positions still to be nailed definitively.

But here again he will box clever, play his cards close to his chest and transmit that message of inclusivity to every player currently in camp. That balance takes some doing.

For all that, I like the look of this match-day 23. Granted it is not top heavy with caps but therein lies the opportunity with 14 capped in single figures and three - Dominic Ryan, Dave Foley and Robin Copeland - not at all.

Verdict: Ireland by 20-plus


Emerging ref Doyle a chip off the old block

Think of Dave McHugh, Alain Rolland, Donal Courtney, Alan Lewis and a golden period for Irish refereeing.

That lineage continues with George Clancy, Peter Fitzgibbon, Dudley Philips and John Lacey all on officiating duty in November series matches this weekend.

While the latter four have still a bit to go to reach previous standards, the groundwork is certainly being laid as Irish refereeing continues to stand tall.

To that list I would add one other name, a match official Irish to the core.

Tomorrow's match between Ireland and Georgia at the Aviva Stadium will be handled by John Paul Doyle, representing the English Rugby Union (RFU) and known as JP.

The former Terenure College school scrum-half is the son of Terry, former president of the Association of Referees Leinster Branch, so it's in the DNA.

Forced to retire prematurely in his early 20s, the Stawberry Hill trained primary school teacher joined the London Society of RFU referees in 2003 and has gone from strength to strength. Watch him.

Irish Independent

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