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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 24 April, 2019
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O'Connell's Ireland set to earn World Cup quarter-final with win over Italy

Joe Schmidt’s side have moved into knock-out mode despite having two pool games left.

Murray Kinsella reports from London

WORLD CUP COACHES will be using all sorts of techniques to keep their teams motivated to peak levels in the coming weeks.

Joe Schmidt has already moved Ireland into knock-out mode despite their having two more Pool D games ahead: Italy today at 4.45pm and then France in Cardiff tomorrow week.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt will be looking for a clinical performance from Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A win against the Italians in Olympic Park would guarantee Ireland their quarter-final place, while the clash with les Bleus looks like deciding who tops the pool and avoids New Zealand in the next round.

“There’s been a change-up,” says Ireland captain Paul O’Connell. “It’s a knock-out game for us so there has been a change. I suppose watching the competition every week makes you excited. Every game is a really tight game, every game is a massive game.”

Schmidt has helped to create an intense competitiveness within his own squad, with players pushing each other hard in the majority of positions. O’Connell is one of the few who are untouchable, but the other second row spot has been fiercely contested.

In terms of motivation levels, both in training and on match day, the strength of the back-up tier of players is pivotal for Ireland.

It’s there in everything we do,” says O’Connell, “certainly in the second-row. I think Donnacha Ryan has done incredibly well to get back.

“He’s a special kind of athlete in terms of being out for a year with Munster but yet when he came back he was still one of the fittest guys in the team. He has lightning pace as well.

“Devin (Toner) is a very relaxed guy but tends to not make any mistakes. Brilliant carrier, brilliant hands, very relaxed way of running the line-out, and a terrific player. Hendy (Iain Henderson) has obviously been playing great rugby. He’s a real beast.

Paul O'Connell O'Connell at Ireland's captain's run in Olympic Park yesterday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“That’s just in the second row, but it’s all across the team, I think,” says O’Connell before mentioning Cian Healy and Eoin Reddan as a pair who have been impressive on the training paddock.

Ireland’s centre combination is changed again today, with Robbie Henshaw finally set for his World Cup debut and Jared Payne dropping out with a bruised foot. Keith Earls, so impressive on the wing recently, shifts into 13.

“Throughout the warm-up games, we’ve trained with a lot of different combinations and exposed them to each other,” says assistant coach Les Kiss. “Even in the warm-ups, we had Earlsy in there once.

“Robbie’s obviously had a setback with injury but we know what he’s delivered for us before. I just think we’ll find a game that will seek to get the two guys engaged as much as possible.

What’s important to remember is that Italy are a very resilient team in defence. It takes a lot to break them down so we need to do the work in the right areas to open up the space for those two guys.”

Scrum-half Conor Murray is excited to see Earls get his opportunity at outside centre, joking that the Limerick man still claims their 2006 Munster Schools Senior Cup victory with St. Munchin’s was all down to him.

“I know Keith very well,” says Murray. “I went to school with him and would know what a special player he is. He has played 13 before and has a wealth of experience there. He has played there when Drico was there and has learned a lot off him.

“He is a naturally gifted player so everyone is really excited for him and the form he is in at the moment.”

Tommy Bowe Tommy Bowe starts on the right wing for Ireland today. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

As always, the Italian pack has been lauded this week, although recent evidence is somewhat contrary to their reputation as the most solid of set-piece outfits. Tommaso Allan continues to learn the Test match ropes at out-half, meaning it’s scrum-half Edoardo Gori who has looked the more impressive halfback in this World Cup.

“Especially in this World Cup, he is in flying form,” says Murray of Gori. “He is another player who can make something out of nothing for them – like Parisse. All across the backline, they have the likes of (wing Leonardo) Sarto, who is obviously a threat.

They have a number of players that we have played against a lot and watched over the last couple of seasons. A lot of them are in flying form at the minute so we’ve definitely been studying them closely.”

Ireland will be as well prepared as ever and with the Italians having struggled for collective form in their two games so far, the expectation is of a strong win for Schmidt’s side and another shift up the gears of momentum.

“I can’t wait to see the Irish fans pretty much pack out this place and feed off the buzz and the noise they are making,” says Murray of what is expected to be a 56,000 capacity crowd in Olympic Park today.

“The early part of the week and in training you’re under pressure and you want to get things right, but you’ve got to enjoy it too, playing for Ireland.”

Ireland:

15. Simon Zebo
14. Tommy Bowe
13. Keith Earls
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. Dave Kearney
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray

1. Jack McGrath
2. Rory Best
3. Mike Ross
4. Iain Henderson
5. Paul O’Connell (captain)
6. Peter O’Mahony
7. Sean O’Brien
8. Jamie Heaslip

Replacements:

16. Sean Cronin
17. Cian Healy
18. Nathan White
19. Devin Toner
20. Chris Henry
21. Eoin Reddan
22. Ian Madigan
23. Luke Fitzgerald

Italy:

15. Luke McLean
14. Leonardo Sarto
13. Michele Campagnaro
12. Gonzalo Garcia
11. Giovanbattista Venditti
10. Tommaso Allan
9. Edoardo Gori

1. Matias Aguero
2. Andrea Manici
3. Lorenzo Cittadini
4. Quintin Geldenhuys
5. Josh Furno
6. Francesco Minto
7. Simone Favaro
8. Sergio Parisse (captain)

Replacements:

16. Davide Giazzon
17. Michele Rizzo
18. Dario Chistolini
19. Alessandro Zanni
20. Mauro Bergamasco
21. Guglielmo Palazzani
22. Carlo Canna
23. Tommaso Benvenuti

Referee: Jérôme Garcès.

Murray hoping Zebo and Earls can emulate Usain Bolt at Olympic Park

Schmidt: Henshaw will take a little time to find his feet at the World Cup

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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