Thursday 23 November 2017

Schmidt holding out hope for key man Jonnny

Battered Earls should be fit to play the Pumas

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt
Ireland’s Luke Fitzgerald solos a rugby ball during squad training yesterday at Sophie Gardens, Cardiff

Joe Schmidt is caught between the rock that is Argentina and the hard place that is getting to the World Cup semi-final.

There are no tomorrows any more unless victory is guaranteed one way or another at The Millennium Stadium on Sunday afternoon (1.0).

The Ireland coach needs every jack man he can call on to make up for the hemorrhage of captain Paul O'Connell, Peter O'Mahony, Seán O'Brien and Jared Payne.

This is why Jonathan Sexton could well be risked with an adductor muscle injury that forced his removal against France.

Scrum coach Greg Feek admits Ireland have had to change their preparation plans for what is a "do or die" scenario.

"Johnny did about 3.5km running, that's a positive," said Feek. "We're quietly confident, we'll see how he goes on Friday."


It will be then Sexton will be put through his paces to come up with a calculated estimation as to whether Ireland's lynchpin can play his part in the drive to make history.

While the significance of Ian Madigan's impact against France cannot be under-estimated, Ireland without O'Connell and Sexton eats into the lifeblood of the team.

Nonetheless, it is not outside the bounds of possibility Schmidt could turn to Paddy Jackson to guide Ireland onto the front-foot.

The Ulster fly-half is a more natural tactician than Madigan and Ireland will probably look to make the free-spirited, free-scoring Pumas play from deep, squeeze their space, apply pressure and pounce on mistakes.

However, the glorious goal-kicking of Madigan is a handy tool to have in Schmidt's box of tricks should Sexton fail to recover from injury.

It has always been Schmidt's prerogative to have his men in place and practising by Tuesday at the latest.

This is no longer the case in a 'needs-must' predicament.

"When you start to accumulate a number of games in-a-row in the Six Nations you usually get two matches and then a week off.

"In November, you get three, but you can still mix it around.

"Here, it's do-or-die type stuff," said Feek

"There might be some allowances around a few things, especially with our medical staff and strength and conditioners. They've got a good feel on things as well."

Centre Keith Earls has been slowly recovering from the buffeting he took from the French last Sunday.

"We're going to see how he goes, we're looking after him a bit," admitted Feek.

"We'll see how he goes on Friday as well. He's just a bit battered, that's all. It's not too bad. At this stage, you want to do the best to make sure everyone is fit and available."

The probability is that Luke Fitzgerald would come into the side as the man from Greystones did when Earls looked a spent force on Sunday.

The other option would be to spring the in-form and under-rated Darren Cave from the shadows.

This is not the outside bet the bookmakers would have you believe because Schmidt is all about planning for any and every eventuality.

Fitzgerald won a seat on the bench against France for the versatility he provided as cover across the three-quarter line.

That argument stills stands as long as Schmidt can fill the potential vacancy with another legitimate candidate.

The Ulster man is a natural fit for the No 13 slot because it is a jersey he has worn most of his working life.

This could be Ireland's last week at what has been a wonderful World Cup.

They won't want it to end and neither will the tournament sponsors, based on the electric atmosphere generated in Cardiff last Sunday and certain to be replicated there this Sunday when Jamie Heaslip will lead the boys in green.

"This week is a quarter-final and the players themselves want to train this week," continued Feek.

"It's just making sure we get to that point that we can do it.

"You want to know what you're doing, that you're organised, that the guys around you have that trust as well."

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