Saturday 19 January 2019

Irish set to pile up the points

Leinster's Larmour ready to be unleashed as Schmidt sets out to hunt bonus point

Jordan Larmour has been in scorching form for Leinster this season
Jordan Larmour has been in scorching form for Leinster this season

There has rarely been so much anticipation about a player who hasn't ever started for Ireland and isn't even starting tomorrow.

Jordan Larmour has captured the imagination of all who have seen the difference he can make.

They simply don't make many like him in this part of the world.

When Ireland coach Joe Schmidt was asked for a comparison to someone from his New Zealand memory bank, the initial reply was to dampen any expectation on the 20 year-old.

"I find it really hard to make comparisons between players in the current game, let alone in the game from years gone by.

"When you mention me growing up, that is a lot of years gone by," issued the 52 year-old.


Even the master of humility could not contain the memory of the first time he saw Larmour in action.

"Look, I just like the way when I first saw him playing, probably three years ago, he was playing in the midfield that day.

"(I liked) how dynamic he was, how he sensed really good timing whether to make the pass or whether to carry the ball or whether to step back inside or take the outside break.

"The great thing with Jordan is he has actually got the talent to do whatever is required."

The temptation to throw the rookie into the Six Nations on talent alone was there. But rare talents have to be protected sometimes.

It is Larmour's thirst for knowledge and ability to translate it into practice that has convinced Schmidt he is ready to play a part.

This comes with a caveat: "He is not a huge young man by any means," said the coach.

"But he has got so many other aspects to his game that he more than makes up for maybe that size and maturity that other players will bring to the game with the aspects that I have mentioned."

Either way, the quicker Ireland get out to a healthy lead, the more likely Larmour is to be released on Italy.

For all of Schmidt's bid to tamper with the evidence that tries will be forthcoming, it won't happen automatically.

There is a process that has to be respected.

"I guess we never go in with that expectation," he cautioned.

"We would love that to be the reality and it was the same last year and the year before.

"We want to get out there and score tries and the number of tries last year was fantastic."

CJ Stander and Craig Gilroy both picked up hat-tricks in the nine-try 63-10 rout at Stadio Olimpico.

"We knew we needed to score lots of points and I don't think that necessarily changes."

The introduction of the bonus-point system has emphasised the value of being merciless from minute one-to-80.

"You have got to keep scoring, keep driving yourself forward because this competition, maybe not in the last two years, but the two years previous to that, came down to very fine margins. Our intention is to keep scoring points."

The Irish have to be patient enough not to grow frustrated if they don't get the lightening start they are looking for tomorrow.

"Yeah, I think that is really important," said Schmidt.

"I remember four years ago, when we won the championship by points-differential, we scored 19 points in the last six minutes.

"If the crowd can be patient, maybe we can do something similar.

"Sometimes it takes a lot to break a team down."

The Italians have gone for mobility and athleticism over brute force with the experienced Alessandro Zanni in the engine room.

They should be able to cover the ground quicker for longer for coach Conor O'Shea.

"Those sorts of things will make them hard to break down.

"If it takes a while, I hope the crowd can stay behind the team.

"The only thing we can guarantee is that we will be working as hard as we can to keep them entertained and the scoreboard ticking over.

"How we do that? We're going to have to vary our game and try to keep them guessing.

"At the same time, we will have to match a fair level of physicality from what they are going to bring."

Ireland: R Kearney; K Earls, R Henshaw, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best (capt), T Furlong, I Henderson, D Toner, P O'Mahony, D Leavy, J Conan.

Replacements: S Cronin, C Healy, A Porter, Q Roux, CJ Stander, K Marmion, J Carbery, J Larmour.

Italy: M Minozzi; T Benvenuti, T Boni, T Castello, M Bellini; T Allan, M Violi; N Quaglio, L Bigi, S Ferrari, A Zanni, D Budd, S Negri, A Steyn, S Parisse (capt).

Replacements: L Ghiraldini, A Lovotti, T Pasquali, F Ruzza, M Mbanda; E Gori, C Canna, J Hayward.

Verdict: Ireland.

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