Saturday 14 December 2019

Fringe can benefit

Second string can't book their place but they must be wary of losing ground

Jean Kleyn in action during an Ireland squad training session at Carton House in Maynooth
Jean Kleyn in action during an Ireland squad training session at Carton House in Maynooth
Joey Carbery (left) and Bundee Aki at Ireland squad training

The sleepless nights and sweaty palms have dried up now that the first Ireland 15 has been named to counter Italy in The Aviva Stadium tomorrow.

For every Johnny Sexton, there is a Joey Carbery fending off Jack Carty and Ross Byrne; for every Conor Murray a Luke McGrath chasing Kieran Marmion and John Cooney.

Those on the fringes absolutely need the benefit of an early start to first put their foot in the door, before blasting through it.

You can't take a chance you don't get.

The majority of the Irish players cannot seal their seat in this first game.

But they sure as hell can lose ground that will be almost unrecoverable for the games that come after it.

"I'm sure that's in the back of people's minds," said Andy Farrell, taking charge ahead of Joe Schmidt's return from New Zealand.

"But, it's not come out in the group that way. It's [about] cohesion. That's what they're after. They're on the same page.

"The players have started to take ownership. They're leading it themselves."

Any temptation to step too far outside the system will come with a well-worn health warning.

It will take a lot of discipline for those on the edge not to go for a gold medal moment.

"It will be team first. I'm sure there will be a little bit there," he said.

"They wouldn't be human, if they weren't thinking a little bit about that, but it has to be team first.

"The group is strong. The cohesion of the 43 is unbelievably strong - so strong that the guys who aren't playing this weekend have really taken ownership of really helping the guys that are maybe playing for their spots.

"You don't know what's going to happen, but everyone is helping one another and that's great to see."

For the record, there are just two starters against the Italians who are all but guaranteed first-team material in Garry Ringrose and Devin Toner.

The biggest inclusion, in more than one way, is that of Munster's monster lock Jean Kleyn.

The South African could have been specially designed to go up against his countrymen, should a quarter- final against Rassie Erasmus's Springboks come to pass.

In the meantime, the combination with Toner does look a tad short of athleticism around the pitch.

There has been a dedication to strip weight for the running requirements that will be on demand in the hot and humid conditions that will prevail in Japan.

In terms of the Italians, Farrell has had Ireland's unsatisfactory Six Nations performance against Conor O'Shea's men to draw on.

"Well, we'll see how we react to that," stated Farrell.

"We've reviewed and talked about it. We actually talked this morning [Thursday] with the leadership group about the Italian game.

"We learn from performances that we're not quite happy with more than when we do in the big wins. "

"We'll see if we get a reaction from that."

Ireland: J Larmour; A Conway, G Ringrose, C Farrell, D Kearney; J Carbery, L McGrath; J McGrath, R Herring, A Porter, D Toner, J Kleyn, R Ruddock (capt), T O'Donnell, J Murphy.

Replacements: N Scannell, C Healy, John Ryan, I Henderson, T Beirne; K Marmion, J Carty, M Haley.

Verdict: Ireland.

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