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Ireland set for wholesale changes as Schmidt looks for injection of energy

After the damaging defeat to Japan, it seems likely that there will be changes aplenty for Russia.

IT WAS ALWAYS certain that Joe Schmidt would be making plenty of changes for Ireland’s clash with Russia in Kobe on Thursday, but the fresher faces now have an even greater onus on them to perform.

It’s their responsibility to get Ireland back on track after the biggest shock defeat of the Schmidt era. A World Cup quarter-final is still firmly on the cards if Schmidt’s side can win big against Russia and Samoa in their final two pool games.

jacob-stockdale-dejected-after-the-game Ireland must bounce back swiftly from the dejection. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

While a bonus-point win over the Russians at the 30,132-capacity Kobe Misaki Stadium probably won’t tell us anything new about Ireland, it would bring at least a hint of momentum back into the squad after the confidence-damaging loss to Japan.

Given that the front five of Cian Healy, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, and James Ryan have started both games so far at this World Cup, the wholesale changes will begin in the tight five.

Schmidt has Dave Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, John Ryan, Niall Scannell, and Sean Cronin to pick from in the front row for Thursday, while a second-row pairing of the as-yet-unused Jean Kleyn and Tadhg Beirne seems rather likely.

Jordi Murphy joined the Ireland squad in Kobe today after being called up to replace Jack Conan and appears likely to go straight into the starting XV as the back row is rotated, with Rhys Ruddock in line for a start too.

Schmidt’s third back row selection will be intriguing. With CJ Stander having played all 180 minutes so far and Josh van der Flier only 15 minutes behind that figure, it could even be that Peter O’Mahony wears the number seven shirt. 

Luke McGrath is in line for a start at scrum-half in place of Conor Murray, while Johnny Sexton is expected to make his return to the matchday 23 after sitting out the Japan defeat. Jack Carty and Joey Carbery would dearly love a start, however.

One would expect Bundee Aki to return too, although it will be intriguing to see how Schmidt selects at 13. Chris Farrell is out with concussion, Garry Ringrose has played every minute so far, and the hamstrung Robbie Henshaw’s availability is still unclear.

One wonders if Jordan Larmour or Keith Earls will be shifted into the midfield. As for the back three, Rob Kearney could get a second start – having missed the opening game against Scotland – and Andrew Conway will be bristling for a return. Earls or Larmour might fill the third starting slot.

While Schmidt will confirm the exact configuration of his much-changed XV tomorrow, those who are likely to be involved understand the need for them to bring the kind of energy the head coach will demand.

johnny-sexton Sexton is likely to make his return on Thursday against Russia. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With Ireland hurting after Saturday in Shizuoka, the show must get back on the road immediately.

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“We spoke about the group as a whole having that responsibility,” says Rhys Ruddock. “This obviously hurts and there’s no harm in wearing it and expressing those feelings of disappointment.

“With a five-day turnaround, it’s just important that everyone takes that responsibility to bring a lot of energy, bring the focus and determination that it’s going to take to build ourselves back up for a huge game and try to lift the mood.”

For a leader like Sexton, the desire to get back onto the pitch is perhaps even be greater.

“When you’re a senior player in the group, that’s your job all the time,” says Sexton, “even more so when you’ve come off the back of a very disappointing defeat.

“I think the team will be very different this week but ultimately you’ve got to pick 23 from 31 so there are going to be guys who are backing up three games.

“That’s the nature of a World Cup. We’ve had it on the Lions tours where you’ve had to play three games in a week, so it can sometimes be tough.

“But at other times you can get into a bit of a rhythm and a routine and the games can work out in your favour.

“Hopefully, I’ll get to go out this Thursday with the boys and we can put in a performance we can be proud of and, more importantly, that puts us in a good position to get into the quarter-finals.”

© – AFP, 2019

Eoin Toolan joins Murray Kinsella in Japan to review Ireland’s shock defeat to the hosts at the Rugby World Cup.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Kobe

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