Sunday 22 April 2018

It's thumbs up as Irish stand-ins get full backing

Joe Schmidt will be relieved that there were no further injuries sustained in yesterday's captain's run Photo: Sportsfile
Joe Schmidt will be relieved that there were no further injuries sustained in yesterday's captain's run Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Ireland managed to come through yesterday's captain's run at the Aviva without adding to their extensive injury list ahead of this afternoon's Six Nations Championship opener against Wales. And as with their last outing - the defeat by Argentina in the World Cup quarter-final - the men who are missing is as big an issue as those who are present.

"It's something we talked about at the World Cup going into the Argentina game - we said we have a lot of faith in this squad as a whole," said captain Rory Best.

"The lesson we learnt was we have the ability. We came back and got within touching distance of Argentina but no matter what players you have on the pitch, if you give a team a 17-point start - or Wales went 12-0 up the last time we played them in the Six Nations - if you give any top level team a start like that, it's very hard to come back.

"In both of those games we got back in touching distance, but at this level I don't think it matters who you've got on the pitch, if you don't start well, and stamp your plan on the game, it's going to be tough. When you look at our squad there are a lot of boys coming in there who are hungry to get back."

Best's appointment to succeed the retired Paul O'Connell was widely welcomed, inside and outside the squad. O'Connell was recognised as the ideal man to bring his team to the right mental pitch, and the hooker will be doing his utmost to sustain that theme.

"Look, for rugby it's pretty simple," he says. "You get your game plans, you get all that embedded early in the week and then the latter part of the week is about enjoying the build-up to it but ultimately gearing yourself up mentally and physically to go out and beat the opposition up because we know Wales are coming to do that to us.

"They want to come and bully us. Being in the forwards - being in the front five - that's what you gear yourself up for every week and I know that is what Paulie brought a lot of, but it's also something that I like to bring a lot of at Ulster. Like I say, it's fairly simple, if you as a pack of forwards get on top of the opposition and control the set-piece and breakdown and win the gain-line you generally win the game.

"Emotionally for me there is no bigger high than playing international rugby at the Aviva Stadium. That's where we will be setting the bar. It will not be set emotionally lower than Paulie's set-up, that's for sure."

Jamie Roberts, meanwhile, says Wales have to be "ready for what is coming" today. "They've lost a bit of experience with a couple of guys retiring and obviously injuries, but strength in depth is something we pride ourselves on with Wales, having players there ready to step in, and Ireland certainly have that too," he said.

"They have quality in depth and Joe Schmidt is a very good coach, there's no doubt about that. They will have a plan ready and we have to be ready for what is coming."

Wales concluded their preparations in Dublin yesterday with recalled wing Tom James set for his first Test start since November 2010 and loosehead prop Rob Evans featuring instead of 119 times-capped Gethin Jenkins.

"We are raring to go. We need to match the emotional level of the Irish team," Wales assistant coach Shaun Edwards said: "I think it's a take your pick game. That is what is fantastic about the Six Nations. Look at last year's competition - what was it? Ten or 12 points in terms of points difference between the teams at the end."

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