Sunday 21 October 2018

Great expectation of nation 'scares' Ireland head coach

Ireland 50 Canada 7

Irish players celebrate after winning
Irish players celebrate after winning
Ian Madigan of Ireland looks for support
Conor Trainor of Canada is tackled by Ireland's Jared Payne
Ireland's wing Dave Kearney (R) avoids the tackle of Canada's full-back Matt Evans
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Put 68,520 people in the Millennium Stadium and close the roof, it doesn't take long before it feels claustrophobic.

Joe Schmidt felt every breath on the back of his neck.

Despite the underwhelming opposition, the overpriced tickets and extortionate hotel prices, legions crossed the Irish Sea or got the train down from London, causing carnage on the rail network.

It was raucous beneath the roof and the players fed off the noise.

"It's fantastic for the team. They love it, but it scares me. It's fantastic but I just don't want these people to be let down," Schmidt said. "We're working hard to make sure that they get rewarded for the support.

"I always feel a massive weight of responsibility to try and encourage the lads to be as good as they can be, because that support's phenomenal, they probably grow an extra inch because of it. Hopefully that can be the case through the next three or four weeks."

Mass-mobilisation

Much has been made of the support Ireland received throughout their campaign in New Zealand four years ago, but London and Cardiff allow for mass-mobilisation and they will effectively be the home team through their campaign unless they meet England.

Their hotel was a stone's throw from the stadium, but walking wasn't an option.

"The people on the streets as we drove through Cardiff ... I have been here a number of times playing and coaching and it was special," forwards coach Simon Easterby recalled.

"The players soaked that up. The journey was slow at times, but it was nice for the players to see the support that was behind us. Hopefully that will give the players that little bit of extra motivation and we can give them some quality rugby and performances to be proud of."

IRELAND TEAM FIXTURES 2018

Date / Time Teams

Doffing the cap to the fans can sometimes feel trite, but there can be little doubt that Ireland will benefit from the large backing in the weeks to come.

They appeared to feed off the crowd in Cardiff, responding with an at-times ruthless performance that left the 19th-ranked team in the world with little doubt of their place on the pecking order.

The forwards laid a foundation of real solidity and even contributed the first two tries as Jamie Cudmore paid the price for his yellow card.

Sean O'Brien and Iain Henderson both touched down during the Clermont lock's cooling-off period, before the Tullow Tank turned provider to draw the Canadians to him and sent Sexton tearing over the line at unprecedented speed.

The North Americans learnt that respect from tier-one nations comes at a price as a fully committed Paul O'Connell careered into contact and Henderson went looking for the ball at every opportunity.

Dave Kearney secured the bonus point before half-time with a quality try and, while things got sloppy after the interval as O'Connell was sin-binned and the Canadians went in search of a score, the bench came on and settled things with Sean Cronin barrelling over before Rob Kearney and Earls combined for the full-back to score.

Those tries sandwiched DTH van der Merwe's try after Payne presented him with the ball on half-way, but he made up for it with a fine supporting line off Ian Madigan's shoulder to score.

Cian Healy almost marked his return with a try, but he knocked it over the line. At that stage the real business had long concluded and the travelling army retreated to Cardiff city centre to celebrate. Next week, they reconvene in the home of English football.

"It's unbelievable," Earls said. "Anything Ireland go into, there's an unbelievable support. You saw it recently with the UFC boys.

"It's something we're really proud of,and coming to the ground today and seeing a sea of green you can't help but get a small bit emotional about it."

It's the wave that can carry them through on big days, and one they appear ready to surf.

IRELAND - R Kearney; D Kearney, J Payne, L Fitzgerald (S Zebo 74), K Earls; J Sexton (I Madigan 56), C Murray (E Reddan 66); J McGrath (C Healy 60), R Best (S Cronin 60), M Ross (N White 60); I Henderson, P O'Connell (capt) (D Ryan 74); P O'Mahony, S O'Brien (C Henry 63), J Heaslip.

CANADA - M Evans (L Underwood h-t); J Hassler (C Trainor h-t), C Hearn, N Blevins, DTH van der Merwe; N Hirayama, G McRorie (P Mack 72); H Buydens (D Sears-Duru 48), R Barkwell (B Piffero 63), D Wooldridge (A Tiedemann 66); B Beukeboom, J Cudmore (capt); K Gilmour (J Sinclair 48), J Moonlight, A Carpenter.

Referee - G Jackson (New Zealand).

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