Wednesday 21 March 2018

David Wallace: Ireland were not good against Wales but Schmidt will have tricks up his sleeve

Action hots up as new season and World Cup squads grab the headlines

Mike Sherry prepares to throw into a lineout during squad training in Bishopstown this week
Mike Sherry prepares to throw into a lineout during squad training in Bishopstown this week
Felix Jones will hope to put his World Cup disappointment behind him by excelling in a Munster shirt

David Wallace

It really is rugby season right now - provincially and internationally it's the talk of Irish sport at the moment and this week it kicked into overdrive with the start of the Pro12 - and of course the Irish squad announcement.

Ireland took on Wales last weekend and they really lost the crucial battle at the breakdown so they have a point to prove tomorrow against England.

It will be an even bigger step-up because the English will be all guns blazing for this one; they have a very strong 15 out. They will probably be trying to make up for their heavy defeat to France.

But it's a strong Irish team out there against them as well and we know what those guys can do when they put their best foot forward. Ireland's strongest asset is normally their clear-out at the breakdown and they thrive off clean ball; they will be trying to get sharper there.

But they weren't good there against Wales. Justin Tipuric is a good player but Ireland really let him play and made him look like the best openside in the world.

Discipline is normally a huge factor behind some of Ireland's best performances and if they want to progress they can't give teams easy points from penalties.

Iain Henderson was one major positive though. He doesn't have the experience of Devin Toner and that might come against him in the World Cup. But looking at him play, he is a big and very powerful guy.

As we saw with his hit on Alun Wyn Jones, Henderson can take down big players and he has great feet for a second-row. He's very dangerous and the first try was proof of that.

When you take out Cian Healy and Sean O'Brien, you need someone who can offer explosiveness. He was the one who stood up to the plate against Wales.

But it's all ahead of Ireland now, the real fun begins against Canada at the Millennium Stadium and I'm sure Joe Schmidt has something up his sleeve.

For Munster, there's no more room for error as they start their Pro12 campaign against Treviso at Irish Independent Park tomorrow. And Munster must make a statement, considering this is the same fixture as the first game of the Champions Cup.


Against London Irish, Munster's intensity, ball-carrying and ability to get over the gainline was all top-notch. They showed some great offloading skills and the pace they played the game at was really impressive.

There were also a number of good performances throughout the team. Andrew Conway is looking incredibly sharp. He took his first try extremely well when he chipped the full-back, and was on his toes when he tapped and went for his second effort.

Francis Saili was obviously taken off and hopefully the stretcher was from a precautionary point of view more than anything. But his first try will help him settle in and endear him to the Munster faithful.

Bill Johnston was a stand-out performer also which is great. He is looking the real deal at No 10. Considering he is a young guy, he hasn't been overawed playing with the senior guys so far. He seems to have a lot of the key attributes to play at the top level.

There's been talk of James Cronin playing over at tighthead this season and it would give Munster so much more if it worked out for him. BJ Botha won't be around for much longer so it would be a perfect fit for the squad.

In Cronin and Dave Kilcoyne, you have two top looseheads and it makes sense to convert one of them.

I certainly don't see anything wrong with it and if you can get Cronin and Kilcoyne on the one pitch at the same time, they are really good ball carriers and it improve the dynamic of the team.

But the more pressing matter is Treviso this evening, last year Munster will probably look back on it and say they got off to a slow start. With six front-liners away, this is the chance for the young guys in the squad to step up.

I am really looking forward to seeing how Jack O'Donoghue goes this year. He was sensational last year and by all accounts he just seems to be getting better and better this time around.

The squad depth will be tested during the World Cup, but I expect Munster to get off to a much better start ahead of some tough games against Ospreys and Glasgow.

Irish Independent

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