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Weather blows Schmidt plans off course as O'Connor talks up chances

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Ireland Head Coach Joe Schmidt

Ireland Head Coach Joe Schmidt

David Rogers/Getty Images

Ireland Head Coach Joe Schmidt

IRELAND's preparations for their pivotal Six Nations clash in Twickenham have been disrupted by the stormy weather after training was cut short in Clonmel yesterday and the IRFU had to cancel their planned open session, which was scheduled for today.

Joe Schmidt has assembled the core of his team in Tipperary to plan for the crucial round three meeting with England on Saturday week and their intention was to train on the front pitch at Clonmel RFC yesterday.

The high winds and heavy rain meant that session was cancelled, but the players did manage to get on to the back pitch of the local rugby club in 130km/h winds and what one spectator described as "horrific" conditions. And last night, the squad were plunged into darkness when the power went at the team hotel as the storms continued to rage.

With most of the back-up players back at their provinces preparing to get some much-needed game time in the Pro12, and Johnny Sexton in Paris ahead of Racing Metro's meeting with Bayonne, the remaining players who featured against Scotland and Wales have decamped to Clonmel for a change of scenery.

Part of the plan may have been to cocoon the players from the growing expectation that has come from their impressive performances to date, but that hasn't stopped others from getting excited about their potential.

Leinster coach Matt O'Connor is one who is impressed with what he has seen so far and, having spent the past number of years coaching Leicester Tigers in the English Premiership, the Australian is well placed to assess the strengths of Stuart Lancaster's side.

He reckons the Irish team backboned by his Leinster players can "outplay" England at the traditionally difficult venue.

"England will be very good at the set-piece, they spend a lot of time at the scrum and line-out and the line-out drive, they play a pretty pragmatic game field position-wise and Owen Farrell kicks his goals," he said.

"I think over the last two, three years they have been particularly hard to beat. (But) they haven't put in too many performances – bar (against) the All Blacks – that would scare too many opposition sides.

"There's a couple of key backs that I know quite well that are probably good enough to be in that team and that aren't.

"I would imagine that, if Ireland front up in the forwards like they have done in the first two Tests, then they should outplay them for the majority of it."

Schmidt will be hoping that Luke Fitzgerald and Eoin Reddan come through Leinster's clash with the Dragons tomorrow night after they came through training at UCD yesterday.

The duo were both in Ireland's initial squad for the Six Nations and both came off the bench against New Zealand in November, and they will be hoping to use the Pro12 clash to further their claims, with Schmidt having promised to change things for next week's game.

With Dan Tuohy out of the tournament, Mike McCarthy will be hoping to push his case after returning from a facial injury against Zebre at the weekend, while Fergus McFadden, Jordi Murphy, Sean Cronin, Ian Madigan, Rhys Ruddock, Marty Moore and Isaac Boss were among those who trained at UCD yesterday and are set to be named in the squad today.

Irish Independent