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Schmidt not ignoring 'incredible banana skin' in Ireland's RWC opener

‘You don’t have to look back too far to 2007 and see that assumptions can undo teams very quickly.’

IT SEEMS LIKE the ideal start. Whatever Ireland say, there is a degree of fortune in beginning their World Cup against Canada.

Ranked 18th in World Rugby’s official list ahead of the tournament, the Canadians will be fiercely competitive, but one only has to look at England’s opener against Fiji (9th in the world) or New Zealand’s start against Argentina (8th) for even greater potential first weekend upsets.

Joe Schmidt with his players Schmidt with his players before last weekend's defeat to England. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Not that Ireland are taking anything for granted. That’s never the way under Joe Schmidt, Les Kiss and the rest of this coaching team.

Expect an Ireland team that is as close to full strength as possible for this opener, with the thinking being to allow further cohesion before changing things against Romania, but equally as importantly to avoid any possibility of a shock against Canada.

With Clermont lock Jamie Cudmore leading the charge up front and strike runners like the Scarlets’ DTH van der Merwe and Jeff Hassler of the Ospreys in the backs, the unfancied Canadians will fancy ruffling a few feathers.

I think people probably undervalue Canada,” says Joe Schmidt when asked about Ireland’s opening game on 19 September in Cardiff.

“I know that people probably won’t see them in the same light, but I think they are an incredible banana skin for us. And you don’t have to look back too far to 2007 and see that assumptions can undo teams very, very quickly.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt and forwards coach Simon Easterby. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“We’re not assuming anything other than Canada will be right up for the game.”

2007 saw Ireland struggle to overcome a determined and surprisingly effective Namibia side, and it is true that there appeared to be a lack of focus on that first hurdle at the time.

Schmidt won’t be allowing that to happen. Game-by-game is a worn-out phrase from this Ireland group by now, but it is a reality within their environment.

I know their coaching staff really well with Kieran Crowley, Neil Barnes and Leo Crowley there, I know the skipper really well in Jamie Cudmore,” says Schmidt of the Canadians.

“I just think the threat across the backline that they have, it could be one of those games where if it’s a bit dour up front and it’s hard to get a lot of success there, you don’t need to invite Hessler or van der Merwe into the game too often for them to have a pretty serious impact on the scoreboard.

“So from that perspective we just don’t feel we can afford to take chances.”

Mick Kearney, Ger Carmody and Joe Schmidt arrive Schmidt, Ger Carmody and Mick Kearney arrive at Twickenham. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Expect the frontliners to start for Ireland, with the likes of Johnny Sexton, Paul O’Connell and Rory Best intent on getting off to a strong World Cup start by focusing on what’s in front of them at Millennium Stadium.

Schmidt took the opportunity last week to turn his players’ attention towards the Canadians, and it’s a certainty that the video analysis after Ireland return to camp in Carton House on Sunday will be centred around the same.

We’re only focusing on Canada at the moment,” says hooker Richardt Strauss.

“We had a look at their players and they have some very, very good players. If you just look at the wings, Hassler and van der Merwe are good every weekend for their regions.

“It’s going to be a tough game and we’re focused solely on Canada. We can’t afford to slip up in any of the games, so we’ll take it week by week and see how it goes from there.”

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Murray Kinsella

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