Tuesday 12 December 2017

Brent Pope: Romania test gives Joe a chance to look at all his options

Joe Schmidt
Joe Schmidt

Based on the first week's games, Irish coach Joe Schmidt won't have any sleepless nights about any one team in this competition.

In quick summary, the All Blacks and Australia were clinical without setting the world alight, South Africa were embarrassed by Japan whilst England, Wales and France stuttered to expected wins against relative inexperienced opposition.

In fact it was left to the bravery of the minnows such as Georgia, Japan and Fiji to excite, despite two of these heroic teams having to dig deep into their small squads with just a four-day turnaround (something that may need to be addressed in the next World Cup).

Ireland's main rivals in Group D, France, stumbled rather than ran over Italy in their first game, and then with 13 changes struggled at times against a Romanian side that surprised.

France made tough going of beating Romania, 38-11, but eventually picked up a bonus point win after an underwhelming display.

Outplayed at the breakdown, the turning point only came in that game when Romania missed a try, and soon after lost a man to the sin bin. France scored two tries in his absence and the game was effectively over.


During the 2007 RWC, then Irish coach Eddie O Sullivan made a fatal error.

He never allowed his fringe or midweek players an opportunity to show what they could do; as a result the squad in general became fractured.

O'Sullivan showed too much loyalty to his incumbent players and when they didn't perform, rather than replace them with fresh, motivated players he ploughed on.

This weekend, like France, New Zealand and the other big nations, Joe Schmidt will select many of his fringe squad players, especially the ones that he feels need to make a serious impact.

He needs the players just outside his perceived starting XV to let him know that they are ready to battle for places in this team, always the mark of a competitive and winning squad.

Professional sport can be a very fickle? A year ago Irish winger Andrew Trimble was voted as "Ireland's most outstanding player" yet he failed to make the RWC squad.

Trimble's Ulster team-mate Tommy Bowe, if selected for Sunday, must deliver a performance that reminds Schmidt of his considerable talents.

The same applies to the world Cup's tallest player, 6ft 11 inch Devin Toner, who despite having excellent back to back Six Nations now faces stern opposition from the outstanding young Iain Henderson.

Toner not only needs to show his ability in the lineout but also in terms of the ball carry, where Henderson has the edge on the big Leinster man.

The warm-up losses to Wales and England are hopefully a distant memory, and when one looks at all the other main contenders thus far, Ireland's win against Canada although really too one-sided to be of real value, was still one of the more impressive victories in the opening week of play.

But Ireland and their coach will know that their rolling maul, so much the fulcrum for a number of the tries against a rather soft Canadian pack will not work as effectively against the bigger, more physical teams such as Romania, Italy and France.


Wednesday night was interesting viewing for Schmidt and not just for France. Schmidt will have been impressed with Romania's tight game and work at the breakdown, where they forced French turnovers into double figures.

Ireland will want to employ a more expansive game-plan against Romania, given their weakness is in on the outsides rather than up front.

Last weekend against Canada we saw plenty of positive intent in Ireland's back play.

But in my opinion they again over-worked the Leinster loop around, which while hard to defend against if done correctly, is becoming far too easily read and predictable. Even the Canadians were able to shut it down comfortably.

Up front, returning prop Cian Healy needs as much game time as he can get and a man of his size thrives on more game time rather than less.

He will be assured of a decent work-out against a Romanian scrum that is teak tough.

Schmidt may also consider having a look at either Henderson or Donnacha Ryan on the side of the scrum at some stage during the game, just so the Irish coach can better consider his options for the bigger fish ahead.

I'll take Ireland to beat a brave but drained Romanian side by 40 points.

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