Wednesday 18 September 2019

Set tempo early, tighten up out wide and lay down autumn marker - Five things Joe Schmidt will want to see in Chicago

 

1 November 2018; Jack McGrath during Ireland rugby squad training session at Toyota Park in Chicago, USA. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
1 November 2018; Jack McGrath during Ireland rugby squad training session at Toyota Park in Chicago, USA. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

This has been a strange week in terms of Ireland's preparations.

Joe Schmidt only arrived in Chicago yesterday, so the time he has had with this team has been very limited.

Instead, Simon Easterby and Andy Farrell have run the show, while the head coach remained in Ireland preparing the front-line players for Argentina.

Perhaps it offered a glimpse into what life will be like whenever Schmidt decides to call it a day but nevertheless, the intensity will have gone up a notch upon his arrival.

There is huge faith in this coaching staff that Schmidt has assembled and it will be fascinating to see their game-plan with an inexperienced team.

Given the travel, there has been less time spent on the training pitch than usual but Ireland will still back themselves to get the November Series off to a winning start by beating Italy at Solider Field tomorrow.

Set the tempo early on

Italy have spoken about wanting to set the record straight after they were hammered in Dublin during the Six Nations, so we can expect them to come flying out of the blocks.

Ireland, however, must embrace the fact that they are overwhelming favourites and the quality that they have in their starting XV and on the bench should reinforce the confident mood.

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A lot of these young players barely know what it feels like to lose at this level and the longer they can keep that up, the better.

If, as expected, the pack lay the platform, Luke McGrath and his quicksilver service will get this dangerous back-line moving.

Josh van der Flier and Tadhg Beirne will look to dominate the breakdown and get Ireland on the front foot.

Tighten up in the wider channels

For all the dominance that Ireland enjoyed over Italy in the spring, Schmidt will have been annoyed at the concession of three sloppy, second-half tries.

Defending the wider channels has been a big focus for Farrell and given that Italy exposed Ireland on the wings on a couple of occasions, they will be mindful of not getting caught too narrow again.

In Garry Ringrose, they have one of the best readers of the game but even he has spoken about needing to time his runs better when shooting off the line.

Ireland's aggressive defence and rapid line-speed has come in for plenty of praise over the last year but they can be vulnerable out wide. Whether or not this Italian team have enough quality to take advantage remains to be seen.

Carbery must control the game

For all of the experience that Joey Carbery has racked up since he made his debut this time two years ago, tomorrow will be just his fourth start for Ireland.

Carbery handled the occasion well when he started in the first Test loss against Australia in June, and even though a largely second-string Italy team will not pose the same kind of threats that a fully-stocked Wallabies side did, the 23-year-old must stamp his class all over proceedings and control the game.

The early signs at Munster have been positive, but Schmidt will be demanding more from his back-up out-half.

The Ireland boss knows that Carbery has the ability to light up Solider Field with his darting runs and exquisite vision but the nuts and bolts of his game, such as his kicking from hand and the tee, will be expected to be near flawless.

Dominate up front

Ireland's scrum has become a weapon and it has allowed Schmidt to implement more of his famed power-plays. The same logic applies to the lineout.

CJ Stander's try against England earlier this year is the best try that Ireland have scored under Schmidt and it highlighted the importance of good, clean ball off the set-piece.

Andrew Porter's switch from loosehead to tighthead has been a resounding success but like Carbery, he still lacks experience from the start at international level.

The Leinster player (22) will start his third game tomorrow and he too needs all the minutes he can get this month.

As they tend to do, Italy will look to take the game to Ireland up front, but it is difficult to see where they can get the upper hand on a powerful pack that reiterates Ireland's strength in depth.

Lay down a marker for the month

Say what you like about the financial benefit to the IRFU of having an extra game at the other side of the world this month, but the reality is it will be an important run-out for the fringe players.

Ireland have rarely, if ever, been in such a strong position that they have two quality squads that can be broken up for a week.

The players who travelled to America have a chance to stake their claim for the month ahead, while the collective is just as important as Ireland look to maintain the momentum that has been built up over the last year.

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