Thursday 14 December 2017

Simon Easterby: We have tweaked our gameplan and approach since Argentina defeat

Jamie Heaslip and team mates look dejected after the defeat to Argentina in the quarter-final of the Rugby World Cup
Jamie Heaslip and team mates look dejected after the defeat to Argentina in the quarter-final of the Rugby World Cup

Tom Rooney

If Ireland are planning to unveil a radically altered offensive strategy against Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday, then they should be commended for their collective poker face.

Since the doors of Carton House were opened to media late last week, there has been a perpetual stream of questions regarding whether Joe Schmidt and his cohorts have devised a more expansive game plan in response to the chastening World Cup quarter final exit at the hands of Argentina last October.

To a man, whether it be Devin Toner, Sean O’Brien or, as was the case today, forwards coach Simon Easterby, the response has been invariably the same.

There will be no seismic shift from the manner of play that yielded two championships in as many years, only an elimination of profligacy when the white line approaches.

On righting the wrongs of the Argentina loss, Easterby claimed that the relevant issues had been addressed - ditto for last year’s defeat to Wales at the Millennium Stadium in the penultimate round, which duly scuppered the Grand Slam tilt.

“If we had had a game (Argentina) the week after I think we would have rectified that,” Easterby said. “We didn't; we had to wait a long time before we could look at trying to rectify some of the issues we had that day.

“That's what we've been able to do since we came into camp last week and certainly when we met just after New Year as well we were able to identify a couple of those things. It was tweaking them, not wholesale changes, just trying to fix a few issues and the players have bought into what Joe and I are trying to put into place. It's been a productive couple of weeks.”

As is his wont, Warren Gatland named his starting XV for the nation’s 10th meeting since the turn of the decade and, despite some relatively new faces, the Kiwi has selected a seasoned outfit.

Easterby admitted that in terms of miles clocked as a team, Ireland are the conceding party but, with a steely nucleus still in situ from the beginning of the Schmidt era, there is an abundance of knowledge to call on.

Furthermore, there is a pervading confidence that, should some of those untried in the test arena be picked, they’ll not be found out of their depth.

“Guys have come in and they’ve trained really well, those new guys you’re talking about. CJ Stander and Stuart McCloskey, two guys that haven’t been in the squad before and the same with Josh (Van Der Flier).

“We’ve got to have a balance and try have some continuity from the World Cup, but also if guys are playing well and we feel like they’re going to add value and be better than the person that was there before them, then we’ll pick those guys.

“We’re not as experienced as them in terms of their match day 23. I think they’ve got over 900 caps between them. We wouldn’t be as strong as that but that shouldn’t be an issue.

“We’ve got enough experience through the spine of the team that allows to pick players with a couple of caps, if they have haven’t been capped before, and they can come in with those other experienced guys around them who can support them,” he said.

It will be abundantly evident on Friday when Joe Schmidt names his team if this particular line reflects the mode of selection.

Easterby confirmed that Sean O’Brien sat out training with a tight hamstring as a precaution and that he will back on the paddock come Friday following tomorrow’s off day. Garry Ringrose trained with group today but, as it stands, is not being considered as a replacement for Leinster teammate Luke Fitzgerald.

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