Saturday 21 September 2019

'This is a squad that we are pretty excited about seeing' - Joe Schmidt relishing Italian job

Head coach Joe Schmidt in Chicago
Head coach Joe Schmidt in Chicago

Cian Tracey in Chicago

Joe Schmidt touched down in Chicago yesterday evening and immediately set about putting the finishing touches to the game-plan ahead of tomorrow's clash against Italy.

The eight hour plane journey from Dublin was not spent binge watching the latest Netflix craze, but rather detailed analysis of what is coming down the line – both this weekend and for the month ahead.

The team that he has named to take on the Azzurri is one that while is light on experience, is littered with explosive potential.

Opportunities to blood younger players before next year's World Cup are few and far between, so from that end, it made perfect sense to leave the front-line players at home.

This week in Chicago has seen new leadership groups being asked to don a little bit more than normal as Schmidt looks to grow the experience within his squad.

For Joey Carbery and Luke McGrath in particular, this is a chance to step out of the shadow of Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray.

"That's one of the things that we've tried to afford not just the half-backs but Rhys (Ruddock) as well, and potentially Jordan (Larmour) from the back and Garry's (Ringrose) played a lot of Tests for us now, as has Bundee (Aki)," Schmidt said at the Ireland team hotel in Chicago.

"So those guys starting to run the show or help those who are running the show, Luke and Joey, that's a really positive thing for us because inevitably you lean on the leaders that have been there and continue to play really well for us.

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"If there's nowhere to lean, you have to stand up and face the breeze yourself, and hopefully that's something we see them do really well on Saturday.

"It's a squad that we're pretty excited about seeing. There's some guys there who maybe needed a bit more time, a bit of catch-up time. There's some guys how maybe haven't had a huge amount of game time recently.

"Starting with the front row, the likes of Niall Scannell, he could definitely do with a bit of a hit-out. Jack McGrath missed a little bit of a section in the early part of the year, so it's great to get Jack back out there. Andrew Porter players second fiddle often behind Tadhg (Furlong), the depth with Michael Bent.

"For those guys to get a bit of a hit-out, it's also great to get Tadhg (Beirne) a starting berth. He came on and did well against Australia twice.

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Tadhg Beirne goes through his paces during an Ireland training session at Toyota Park in Chicago yesterday. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

"Then the back-row, they all know each other pretty well. Rhys has obviously been captain before and captained a lot of those other guys who are in the team.

"Luke and Joey have played a bit together obviously and I thought Bundee and Ringer finished the Six Nations incredibly well, so it's great to put those two together.

"Jacob missed a little bit of time at the start of the year, so as you go through it, some of it is a bit of catch-up, some of it is opportunity, so we can try to get as fine-tuned as we can for the next two weeks but at the same time, give Italy the respect they deserve.

"There's a fair few guys in their set-up, you match the centres up, for example. Luca Morisi is a super player, I know he's had a lot of injury issues over the last few years but you put him and Campagnaro together and you've got a handful. Bellini caused us problems last year.

"There's that experienced combination of Tito Tebaldi and Carlo Canna, so they merit the respect that we've tried to show them by naming what we believe to be a really competitive side."

Despite the relative inexperience, Ireland will expected to beat Italy convincingly, but Schmidt is realistic about the challenge that lies ahead at Solider Field, particularly because of the lack of preparation time that the squad have had.

"The pessimistic side of me is hoping for no injuries and the optimistic side is hoping for a really good performance, albeit in the very short window that group have had together," the Kiwi added.

"They got together Sunday evening and we had a chat about what we're going to do, then walked through a couple of things just before they caught their flight on Monday.

"They really only had one full training today, so that's a challenge. I'm not sure that it's much different for Conor (O'Shea) and his crew, so it will be a good match-up."

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