Murray Kinsella reports from Paris
IN AN ODD way, it feels like Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale and James Ryan have been around this Ireland squad for longer than is the case.
Aki showed real assurance in a strong first November series for Joe Schmidt’s side last year, although his experience in club rugby for the Chiefs and Connacht meant that was unsurprising.
Stockdale and Ryan, both of whom are still just 21, debuted on the tour of the US and Japan last summer, showing their promise there and then following it up by earning starter status in the November fixtures.
All three appear to have healthy Ireland careers ahead of them and they are likely only to get better over the course of this championship, but while they have settled into the squad impressively, tomorrow is a totally new test.
Six Nations rugby, away in France.
The clash with les Bleus [KO 4.45pm Irish time] will be cap number five for both Stockdale and Ryan, while Aki will earn his third, but Ireland captain Rory Best can see positives in their relative inexperience.
“I think at this stage they are probably a little bit unaware as to the magnitude of the game – to come to the Stade de France with 80,000 people and the atmosphere, the microscope you’re under in the Six Nations,” said Best after Ireland’s captain’s run at the Stade de France today.
“It’s probably going to be a bit of a surprise for them but, at the same time, these are guys that are used to playing in big games. They have handled big occasions before and they stepped up very well in the autumn, most of them.
“Sometimes with not knowing what’s coming, it’s a good thing because there’s less that you fear and you can just go out and play. In this build-up, you can worry about playing your own game and don’t worry about some of the things that have gone before that other players have.”
There is plenty of experience around the trio of Six Nations debutants in this Ireland team – the likes of Best, Rob Kearney, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony – and their calming influence will be important during the decisive moments in Paris.
But Best doesn’t feel there is any great need for him to sit Aki, Stockdale or Ryan down to offer up specific advice before the latest milestone in their Test careers.
“The big thing for the likes of Jacob and Bundee playing their first Six Nations is to get out and play with the confidence and play the type of game that has got them selected to start in a Six Nations game,” said Best.
“The big thing is to play the match and not play the occasion, to stick to the stuff we know so well and, ultimately, it’s going to take a big effort whatever 15 is on the pitch and we know that.
“That’s the big thing to stress – these guys have shown in the autumn and in Europe that they are capable when there is a step up required. That’s what we need.”
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