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Dublin: 2°C Saturday 28 November 2020

Joe Schmidt has picked an Ireland 23 with the ingredients to beat the All Blacks

The head coach is backing players who have earned his trust over recent seasons.

SCAN DOWN THROUGH the names on this week’s team sheet and it’s easy to understand why Joe Schmidt has selected the way he has for this quarter-final against the All Blacks.

For his toughest challenge yet as Ireland head coach, Schmidt has gone for proven ability and experience in the Test arena.

It’s true that none of this Ireland XV has ever won a World Cup knock-out game – no Irish player has at senior men’s level – but every single one of Schmidt’s starting team has beaten the All Blacks before.

cian-healy-james-ryan-and-tadhg-furlong-celebrate-winning Ireland celebrate last November's win over the All Blacks. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

They’ve tasted the joy of that achievement and there is an understanding that doing it at a World Cup would bring a completely new level of satisfaction.

Schmidt resisted the temptation to throw a cat amongst the pigeons by selecting Jordan Larmour or Tadhg Beirne or Rhys Ruddock in his starting XV – all three feature on the bench – but it’s understandable that he has gone for Rob Kearney and Peter O’Mahony.

Current form is, of course, crucial but Schmidt remembers Kearney delivering in stunning fashion in Chicago in 2016 when the head coach had put real pressure on the experienced fullback to deliver in that game at Soldier Field.

Schmidt also vividly recalls O’Mahony being an inspirational man of the match last November in Dublin as Ireland repeated the feat against the Kiwis on home soil, the Cork man’s goalkeeper save in the Ireland 22 among his highlights.

While Larmour and Beirne and Ruddock might have added energy and something the Kiwis weren’t expecting, Schmidt has long been a coach who stays loyal to those who have earned his faith. Kearney and O’Mahony have done so over the course of many years.

Overall, Schmidt will feel this team has the right ingredients to beat the All Blacks on Saturday in Tokyo if they can deliver a near-perfect performance.

Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton possess the kicking game to trouble the Kiwis’ backfield and pick at any potential weaknesses in the still-new backfield trio of Sevu Reece, Beauden Barrett, and George Bridge.

Cian Healy, Rory Best, and Tadhg Furlong is a settled front row combination that had real success against the Kiwis’ scrum last November and will seek an edge in that department again.

andrew-porter-and-garry-ringrose-celebrate-after-the-game Andrew Porter and Garry Ringrose celebrate in Dublin. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

With O’Mahony competing ferociously in the air and James Ryan continuing to improve as a defensive jumper, Ireland will believe they can stem the flow of All Blacks possession out of touch too. Iain Henderson has visibly grown as a lineout caller in the last few weeks in Japan on Ireland’s own throw.

CJ Stander’s ball-carrying has returned to a peak at this World Cup, Furlong is coming off the back of his best performance in this area for some time, while the likes of Healy, Ryan, and Henderson are thoroughly capable of making dents in the Kiwi defence too. 

The midfield pairing of Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose is intelligent on both sides of the ball, while Kearney, Jacob Stockdale, and Keith Earls know each other extremely well having built a back-three understanding in the last two seasons.

Stockdale will be desperate to finally show his try-scoring quality at this World Cup and Ireland would be foolish not to get the ball to the Ulster man as often as possible. The same applies with Ringrose, who is playing like a Rolls Royce in this World Cup.

Ireland’s maul was impressive against Samoa and could squeeze the All Blacks, while Schmidt’s side are capable of delivering extremely low error counts at their best – potentially depriving the Kiwis of the kind of turnover opportunities that allow them to win games.

Ireland’s discipline is miserly too and they will back themselves to get on the right side of referee Nigel Owens.

Defensively, Ireland have been excellent in this World Cup and it’s clear that Andy Farrell has some expertise in shutting the All Blacks down, having enjoyed four wins and a draw against them in his coaching career so far.

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Crucially, Schmidt has an impactful bench to call on too. Dave Kilcoyne and Andrew Porter are perhaps the most explosive back-up prop pair in Japan, while Beirne can change a game with his unique skillset and Ruddock will add real physicality when called on.

tadhg-furlong-celebrates-after-the-game Ireland are aiming for their biggest win yet against the Kiwis. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Luke McGrath is a fiery defender and has been in good form, while Joey Carbery and Larmour have the attacking skillsets to cut any team open in the event that Ireland need to chase the game.

In Sexton and Carbery, Ireland also have goal-kickers they believe will nail any crucial opportunities off the tee. Sexton has a decent drop-goal in his armoury too.

So, one can see exactly why Ireland and Schmidt are feeling a degree of confidence about Saturday when some rain is expected at Tokyo Stadium. The Kiwis are, of course, very accustomed to excelling in the wet but Ireland wouldn’t mind too much if it’s a grinding affair in this quarter-final.

They will aim to squeeze and suffocate the Kiwis, dragging energy and patience out of them as they go.  

All of this said, one could completely flip this viewpoint on its head. Ireland haven’t had a good 2019 and the All Blacks possess a truly sensational array of strengths.

Now, we wait for Saturday to see if Ireland have enough to get this job done.

- Originally published at 08.21

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Tokyo Bay

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