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Avoiding the dreaded 'undercooked' tag and 3 big wishes ahead of Ireland's RWC warm-up fixtures

The World Cup is just around the corner and nerves are jangling.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THE WORLD CUP warm-up games, and with them a new season, arrive this weekend for Ireland.

It’s an exciting time, but also one filled with nerves for fans and players alike as the squad attempt to walk the tightrope between building for bigger days ahead and showing off what they’re capable of.

So before we all get stuck in to a Summer Series of Wales (twice), Scotland and England, here’s what we hope to seem from Joe Schmidt’s men.

Ambition

Here at The42,  we thoroughly enjoyed watching Ireland minimise risk and maximise results with a powerful kicking game in the first half of the Six Nations. That’s a great weapon to have and it will serve us well again at some point in England this autumn.

Jonathan Sexton Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

However, there’s nothing better than some smooth handling to compliment some rough and tumble Garryowens. Schmidt’s Ireland have shown their more subtle skills in Championship deciders against Scotland and France. This summer we should see even more of what green jerseys are capable of with ball in hand.

There is more to these Tests than merely experimentation, but the opening two fixtures provide the last window for it.

Big name minutes

So we all know by now that ‘undercooked’ is a swear word in an Irish training camp and must not be uttered until all hope is lost.  Everybody likes to see young and fringe players given a shot in a green jersey, but if a first XV is flooded with low-cappers then it doesn’t do anybody any good.

Paul O'Connell and Dan Tuohy Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Jonathan Sexton (to pick on Ireland’s attacking fulcrum as if it was random) has always been open about needing a run of fixtures to hit his best form. The apparent resistance to fatigue of Paul O’Connell and Jamie Heaslip is the stuff of legend. There’s no fitness like match-fitness for Sean O’Brien… These are three of many reasons to ensure Irish players are held to the furnace rather than wrapped in cotton wool before we meet Canada in Cardiff.

Fringe form

And here’s where Schmidt’s job is difficult: nothing inspires form in established players like the fear of losing their jersey.

Joe Schmidt Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There are a sizeable chunk of players in the current squad who know they’re not in the top 31. This may even be their last chance to feature in a World Cup.

So whether they get 20 minutes off the bench or 40 minutes of front row action from the start, they must empty the tank, prove they deserve more and make sure that there are plenty of onlookers to complain about their omission if the squad doesn’t pan out their way.

None of us want to see injuries, but they are almost inevitable. When misfortune arrives and one World Cup dream is shattered, the fringe players will shed all pity for their team-mates and leap forward with hands in the air screaming ‘fit and willing to do whatever it takes, Joe!’

A start for Madigan

Jonathan Sexton is number one out-half, this is clear. But what if he pulls up in a warm-up, or tweaks a hamstring in the first quarter of a game? Who will steer the ship then?

Ian Madigan Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Of his back-up number 10s, Schmidt has so far preferred to use Ian Madigan as a bench option. Yet when starting jerseys are handed out with Sexton marked absent, Schmidt has left Madigan in reserve and brought in Paddy Jackson. When Jackson was injured, Ian Keatley answered the call.

Running a game from the start as out-half is a completely different prospect to springing off the bench. Madigan, now 26, has started three of his 18 caps for Ireland and rarely afforded the opportunity to take the Leinster reins for 80 minutes.

If Schmidt will only take two out-halves across the channel in September (he could well take three), he’ll need to see much more than just experience at centre and fullback from a second choice out-half.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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