Thursday 20 June 2019

Warm-up woes that Joe Schmidt won't want repeated

Schmidt will hope to avoid the pitfalls of previous World Cup years

David Wallace is tackled by England’s Manu Tuilagi, which resulted in the Munster man missing the 2007 World Cup
David Wallace is tackled by England’s Manu Tuilagi, which resulted in the Munster man missing the 2007 World Cup
Geordan Murphy breaks his leg in Murrayfield back in September 2003

World Cup warm-ups don't often last long in the memory, but there are a collection of moments that stood the test of time for all the wrong reasons.

If Ireland can negotiate their clashes with Wales (twice), England and Scotland without incident, then Joe Schmidt will be a very happy man - but the likelihood is that there will be at least one twist before the Six Nations champions take on Canada in Cardiff next month.

Injuries are the big worry, but a poor performance can have an impact on the team's morale, and there is no accounting as to what might happen as the big show looms.

Tuilagi hit ends Wallace hopes

David Wallace was a shoo-in for Declan Kidney's 2011 World Cup squad and would have been among those simply looking to get some game-time under his belt when he took the field in the warm-up game against England.

Instead, he had his world turned upside down when he found himself in space on the right wing only for Manu Tuilagi to launch his huge frame in the flanker's direction.

There was nothing malicious in the hit, but the force of the Samoan-born Leicester Tiger saw Wallace's right leg crumple, and it was clear from the moment he touched the ground that he was in severe trouble.

As if appreciating the severity of the blow, the Aviva Stadium rose to acknowledge a brilliant Ireland servant who would never play for his country again and retired a year later.

O'Gara saves blushes

Ireland have not returned to Belfast since this pre-2007 meeting with Italy in which the alarm bells went into overdrive. Six months after scoring freely against the Azzurri in the Six Nations finale in Rome, Eddie O'Sullivan's men almost ran aground against the same opponents on home soil.

An 84th-minute try from Matteo Pratichetti looked to have handed a deserved shock win for an experimental Italian side, but Ronan O'Gara was awarded a dubious try minutes later, with the television match official awarding the score despite the lack of a clear grounding on the video footage.

After a bad tempered affair, Alessandro Troncon had to be restrained as the furious Italians registered their disappointment.

Ultimately, though, it was Ireland who were rattled despite the win and their subsequent performances showed little improvement.

Bayonne rattle O'Driscoll

In retrospect, taking on a French club side just weeks before you face France in the pool stages might not have been the best idea.

When Brian O'Driscoll had to be taken to hospital for treatment on a suspected fractured cheekbone after an altercation with New Zealander Mikaera Tewhata during a easy win over Bayonne just weeks before the 2007 tournament got underway, an already struggling O'Sullivan must have feared the worst.

Bayonne had little to lose and plenty to gain by rattling Ireland's cage and, although the captain was later cleared to lead the side into the opening game against Namibia, it again brought a negative focus to a campaign that would ultimately end in infamy.

Murphy's Murrayfield mishap

Geordan Murphy's international career was pockmarked by selection disappointments, but the cruellest cut of all came in 2003 when he was arguably in the form of his life ahead of Australia.

In the last warm-up game, the full-back linked up with Eric Miller, before Mike Blair stopped his march and he collided with his team-mate.

"I hit the ground and rolled and still managed to get the ball back on our side; that seems a worrying level of commitment now," Murphy recalled later.

"I was lying on my right side and my left leg was dangling in the air. I had to somehow rest that leg on top of the other while this ruck was going on behind me.

"The pain wasn't unbearable yet but I knew it was coming. I told the physio I'd broken my leg. He tried to be encouraging - 'Maybe you haven't.' I said it was definitely broken. He went quiet for about 10 seconds and then called for the stretcher.

"I remember lying in the dressing-room when the pain really kicked in and I knew they wanted me out of there before the team came in at half-time. They didn't want anyone to see me in that state."

Munster halt Ireland's march

Another friendly that, at this remove, looks ill-advised as Warren Gatland's team took on a Munster side laden with disappointed players before the 1999 World Cup.

After the New Zealander named his squad early and included just five Munster players, the Musgrave Park clash took on a whole new edge as the likes of Anthony Foley, Mick Galwey and Ronan O'Gara took out their frustration on Ireland, inflicting a 26-19 defeat with Dominic Crotty and Alan Quinlan tries plus 18 points from O'Gara.

"Declan Kidney didn't need to psych us up and when we won, people went wild. It was a strange scene with all these Irish people celebrating an Ireland defeat," Foley recalled.

Irish Independent

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