Monday 22 July 2019

'There are guys who have big caps' – Schmidt calls on fringe players to stake their claim

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

The memories of what happened at Soldier Field two years ago will stand the test of time, and while this game is no where near the same scale, Ireland come into the clash against Italy with plenty to play for.

Jack McGrath is the only survivor from the team who started in the historic win over the All Blacks included in the XV this evening as Joe Schmidt rotates his squad with a view to giving plenty of young players more experience at this level.

With the Cubs not having just won the World Series, this past week in Chicago has been low-key in comparison to the events of 2016. Slowly but surely the green jerseys have been spotted downtown, however, as the Ireland supporters make the long journey over.

Over 30,000 tickets have been sold for the triple-header, which also includes USA against the Maori All Blacks as well as USA women's team taking on the world champions, the Black Ferns.

In a city that is utterly sports-crazy, rugby is still some way down the pecking order. It's fair to say that the arrival of Ireland hasn't exactly captured the local media's attention as a handful of American journalists have been the only ones outside of the familiar faces present at the media gigs this week.

The IRFU refute reports that they are set for a windfall of close to €1m for the game. The union claim that it is closer to a quarter of that figure.

The monetary aspect aside, this will undoubtedly prove to be an important week in the development of the likes of Jordan Larmour, Tadhg Beirne, Andrew Porter and Joey Carbery.

Schmidt's decision to remain in Carton House with the players who are expected to start against Argentina hasn't upset the rhythm of the players, but even still, for someone as meticulous as the Kiwi, not being able to be in two places at one time must have been eating him up inside.

"Aw, it is far from a contractual obligation," Schmidt said in regard to the lucrative clash in the Windy City.

Precious "There's a huge opportunity. These weeks are really precious to me and they are to every one of the players. The shop window doesn't get lit up too often so they want to make sure they get into the shop window and take every opportunity.

"They get visibility through their provinces but they can build on their visibility with real credibility in this environment because we get to know how they mix and how they bring out the best in the players around them and how well they commit to what needs to be done.

"So, I don't want to heap pressure on these players because they put enough pressure on themselves.

"They are very conscious of this being a really big opportunity for them and it will be no different next week or the week after because if an opportunity is offered in those two games then how do you measure up and how do you link up with the other guys in the team?"

For all of the relative inexperience that this Ireland team has at international level, Schmidt was quick to point out how many big games some of these players had already been involved in.

For example, Joey Carbery steered the ship home at this same venue two years ago and then started the first Test in Australia last summer.

Jordan Larmour has come off the bench at crucial times of important games, while Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose were outstanding together during Ireland's Grand Slam success.

"I certainly think you are going to see a lot of these guys play a lot of games for Ireland," Schmidt maintained.

"I'd like to think we have worked pretty hard to get the right personnel, and while Jack is the only starter who is around the 50-cap mark, there are guys who have big caps.

"What I am saying is that caps aren't all the same. Guys like Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose, finishing off those Six Nations, those are big caps.

"Those are big experiences they can bring to the fore. Two years ago, Joey Carbery had his 21st birthday in a restaurant here in Chicago, and he managed the last 20 minutes of a monumental day for us, a day that we still look back on fondly and I am sure he does.

"Sometimes there is a nice sense of him coming back to where it all started and hopefully taking another step. So while he would not have so many big caps starting, he has had some big opportunities.

"The last time we were in the USA, he started that Test. Unfortunately, he got injured, but I thought he played well.

"He got two charge-down kicks, but some of his other play was very good. He started against Fiji and he started that really big Test in Brisbane and when he left the pitch it was 9-8 to us, so he didn't let us or himself down.

"Back-row-wise, Josh van der Flier started the Six Nations for us at seven, Rhys Ruddock has played a lot of games for us, and Jack Conan started that last Test in Australia, so I know it is a little bit of an amalgam.

"But I hope it is an amalgam that works for us. I don't know about 10 years but certainly in the five-year cycle we might see, an immediate one year and the four years that follow, a lot of those guys will play a lot of games."

This is a big game for Carbery and on the back of his fine start to his Munster career, Schmidt wants to see his young out-half kick on even further.

The 23-year-old will be helped by the fact that he has a familiar face in Luke McGrath on his inside and outside of him, Aki will provide plenty of protection against an Italy side who will look to get in Carbery's face.

Positive "I think of all people Joey can get the benefit of him playing 10, I think Munster probably have as well," Schmidt maintained.

"I know that Johann (van Graan) is happy with him. Felix (Jones) is happy with him. And he's happy that he is getting opportunities to kind of make mistakes and build from them, be involved in positive aspects of play and build upon them.

"I think it's one of the toughest positions, that if you're not playing it regularly, because of the things you have to do, even outside of your actual personal involvements in the game, it's making sure that other people have access to the game by getting them organised, by giving clear direction.

"So I hope for Joey on Saturday that having Bundee and Garry there will help him along a little bit. And the fact that he knows Luke quite well.

"That will hopefully allow him to blend in and not have to take all the responsibility but demonstrate that he can take a fair share of it."

Conor O'Shea set out Italy's stall early last week when he named his starting XV 10 days in advance. The Italian side has a very unfamiliar look to it and while Mattia Bellini and Michele Campagnaro can be dangerous on their day, the reality for O'Shea is that the Azzurri's clash at home to Georgia next weekend is of far greater importance.

All Irish supporters will be hoping to see Dublin born out-half Ian McKinley come off the bench against his home country, but Italy are unlikely to have enough firepower to really trouble a young Ireland team that is brimming with explosive potential.

"The meter ran this morning here because the players know that we watch training closely and they would testify that players who don't train well get less opportunity in that shop window when you want to maximise shop window opportunities so it is something we try to drive in the environment," Schmidt added.

"Well, to be honest we don't even need to drive it too much. The players are driven themselves to be as well prepared for Saturdays as they can be and this Saturday is no different." Verdict: Ireland

Irish Independent

The Throw-In: Kerry back to their best, Connolly’s return and Cork’s baffling inconsistency

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport