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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Brent Pope: All going to plan for Joe Schmidt's men in green

Woes of rivals playing into hands of Ireland's untested side

Joe Schmidt
Joe Schmidt

On a weekend that belonged to Wales and the old virtues of guts and glory, Ireland again marched on in clinical, but not particularly exciting, fashion.

In many regards, things just keep getting better for the men in green, and much of it not of their own doing.

In the group of death, England is now in serious trouble. And for a team that promised so much for so long they are now failing to deliver on the biggest stage of all.

In some regards, should Australia beat England, which is a real possibility given the extra pressure that England will now face courtesy of a media storm, then Wales will be out of the RWC even if they qualify.

Why? Because how can Wales possibly continue much further in this competition with just the bones of a team, which still has to face Australia and Fiji.

South Africa have already lost their captain Jean De Villiers with a broken jaw, while giant Wallaby second-row Will Skelton also looks in serious doubt after leaving the field with a shoulder injury in their one sided win against Uruguay.

Of the main contenders only Ireland and New Zealand remain in rude good health apart from the usual bumps and bruises.

World Cups are always won by squads and not just the 15 men on the park at any given time, and while Ireland are yet to hit their straps on the field. Things are definitely going their way off it.

In the end the somewhat muted applause from a world record crowd probably summed up what most people thought about Irelands comfortable 40 point win over Romania.

To most it was just another step closer to the big showdown with France, and another chance to come through unscathed (apart from a slight injury scare to front-liner Rob Kearney).

As with Canada, it was a case of job done by the Irish and time to move on.

The problem with having a soft group, like Ireland’s, is that it’s hard to gauge exactly what is learnt from these one-sided matches?

The answer is not a lot. Running in tries against fresh air is worthless in the larger scheme of things, apart from a chance to play against live opposition rather than on the training park.

As with the first warm-up game in Cardiff against Wales, which seems like eons ago, coach Joe Schmidt would be hard pressed to make any crucial selection decisions based on this match alone. He probably has his starting line up for the Italian clash and then French match already pencilled in, with just a couple of positions up for grabs.

Dave Kearney is a certainty on one wing, but who will partner him? Against Romania both Keith Earls and Tommy Bowe scored a brace of tries, while Simon Zebo and Luke Fitzgerald are also serious options to start on the wing.

Personally, while Earls has shown himself to be a fine finisher, his slight lack of physical bulk would worry me especially against France. I would tend to go with Tommy Bowe, who has been so consistent over the years, or Luke Fitzgerald, who has a mix of power and pace. In the centres, I suspect that Schmidt will opt for what he knows, namely Robbie Henshaw if fit, and Jared Payne, although against fairly limited opposition it was in fact Darren Cave who looked most likely to make the break against the awkward Romanians.

In the pack, while Devin Toner enjoyed all the lineout ball on offer over the weekend, that was to be expected against an opposition lineout that was never going to really test the two metre plus ace. Toner did carry the ball well around the park but at times finds it difficult to get his large frame low enough. Iain Henderson is in irrepressible form with ball in hand and will, in my opinion shade that key position against the physical French.

Elsewhere, prop Cian Healy got through another important game, although he lacked his usual speed and dynamism when put in the clear, something that will hopefully come with another puff out against Italy next week. So another win without really setting the creative juices flowing, a bonus point in the bag that won’t really matter, six tries to one and a clean bill of health. That will do for now.

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