Monday 19 March 2018

Alan Quinlan: Expect more from Irish as Schmidt goes for strength

Plenty of loose ends to be tidied up ahead of World Cup, but players must now step forward and put their hands up for selection with a quality performance

Irish captain Paul O’Connell goes through his stretching exercises during the captain’s run at Twickenham yesterday ahead of today’s
World Cup warm-up clash with England
Irish captain Paul O’Connell goes through his stretching exercises during the captain’s run at Twickenham yesterday ahead of today’s World Cup warm-up clash with England

Alan Quinlan

I think Joe Schmidt has got it just right in the way he scheduled Ireland's warm-up matches and heading to Twickenham this weekend is the perfect way to wrap up the preparations.

Lads will get a real feel for what it is like and deep down each of them will be hoping that they will be back here in October for the final.

But there is a whole lot of work to be done if that dream is to be achieved, starting today against an English side who, like Ireland, will not want to go into the tournament of the back of two losses.

That said, the result is not the most important thing this afternoon. Producing a much better performance than last week and coming away from it without any injuries are the two primary targets.

Aside from Tommy O'Donnell, Ireland have been lucky in the warm-up games so far on the injury front.

Indeed so much has been happening around those games that it seems like an age since Tommy got injured.

Each of the games took on an importance of their own and then, of course, we had the squad announcement earlier this week.

There has been much debate about only bringing two scrum-halves but clearly a lot of thought has gone into it and it is a calculated risk.

There is always the option of bringing out Kieran Marmion or Isaac Boss at a few hours' notice if an emergency arises.

I'd hope that Ian Madigan might be getting some training time or game time at scrum-half in the coming weeks ahead of the Canada or Romania games, or possibly in one of those.

The last thing you want is to have to throw Madigan in to the No 9 shirt in the heat of a battle and ask him to produce. That wouldn't be fair on him and I'm sure Joe Schmidt would never let that happen. He'll be well prepared.

On of the positives of going with just two scrum-halves is that's it's freed up another slot in the backs and Darren Cave is the big winner here.

Schmidt still has plenty of options left at home if any of those backs get injured and that is one of the benefits of the tournament taking place on our doorstep.

The only surprise up front is Tadhg Furlong getting the nod ahead of Michael Bent.

I am delighted to see Furlong get a chance. I thought Schmidt would go with Bent. I had included him in my squad a few weeks back, but I am pleased that Furlong has been chosen.


It is great to see someone like Furlong, who has come through the system, get an opportunity like this and it is good for the game that lads from all over the country will be donning the green of Ireland.

And at a time when Gordon D'Arcy is winding down, another Wexford native is embarking on his international career.

I think Bent could yet play a part if there are injuries in the front-row and he will be one of many who will be hoping to stay in the frame by producing solid performances in the Pro12 over the next few weekends.

I am not surprised that Schmidt has gone for such a strong side in Twickenham today. The team really need a big hit-out and I am sure they will get that from an England side who have some sorting out to do themselves ahead of hosting the competition.

At this stage lads are playing for places in the starting 15. They know what Schmidt is like and that he will continue to pick on form rather than on reputation.

I would imagine the atmosphere in the camp would have changed a lot this week. Funnily enough, even though the World Cup is less than two weeks away there was probably less pressure on players once the squad was announced.

And I think we might see that reflected in the style of play today with lads perhaps a tad more composed and a bit sharper with the improved match fitness they have accumulated.

And starting with our strongest back-row should also have a big impact and a much better performance around the breakdown than we saw against Wales. Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Peter O'Mahony will really test the English back-row.

It's a game that I, like every other Irish supporter, am really looking forward to as we try to evaluate just how Ireland might do at the World Cup.

It will be a new challenge for many of them, and I noted with interest during the week that one of my old warrior buddies is about to start a new era.

I knew that Donncha O'Callaghan was considering a few options because he wanted first-team rugby and even at 36 he believes he has a few years left in him.

You only have to look at the likes of Brad Thorn and Nathan Hines to see how some guys can go on and on.

Donncha has always minded himself and has always trained superbly. He has been lucky enough with injuries and I think he will be a big addition to Worcester, both on and off the field.

It says a lot about him that he has that ambition and fair play to Munster as well for facilitating it.


I first encountered Donners at a trial match in Cork back in the late '90s. I had broken clean through from halfway - I had a bit of pace back then! - and was easing my way towards the try-line and suddenly this big lanky fella with blond highlights came tearing across after me.

His big hands were swinging and I had no choice but to hit the accelerator again and he still ploughed down on top of me when I scored. I wasn't entirely amused but we had many a laugh over the years.

He has always been a prankster and great fun and he brightened up many a day with his antics. My favourite was in Breaffy House in Mayo about a decade ago. We were there for a bonding session with other serious stuff on the agenda.

Donners came in one door from outside where a team meeting was about to take place and walked across the room with a line of ducks of following him.

Alan Gaffney was looking at him, speechless, and with his eyes wide open as Donners proceeded to go out a door at the other end of the room with the ducks still following him and mopping up the crumbs of bread he was dropping from his hand. He came back in with a straight face and sat down with a 'what are ya'll looking at' look on his face.

I'm sure Worcester will enjoy him as much as we did with the latest chapter in his life. Seventeen years playing with Munster and Ireland is an incredible achievement.

Maybe there are a few more twists and turns to come yet and I hope it goes really well for him.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport