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Dublin: 3 °C Thursday 17 January, 2019

Letter from London: Schmidt's Ireland get World Cup show on the road

Murray Kinsella has landed in the English capital after a week at St. George’s Park.

Murray Kinsella reports from London

WE HAD TO run for the train today and oddly enough it felt a little more like a World Cup.

After a week in the undeniably world-class St. George’s Park near Burton-on-Trent, a sleepy town of fewer than 70,000 people, Ireland upped sticks this afternoon and headed in the direction of London.

Paul O'Connell Paul O'Connell and co. arrived in London today. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Out of their bubble of analysis, training sessions, one-on-ones with Joe, analysis, gym sessions, analysis, skills sessions, collective work with Joe and analysis, and back into the World Cup madness. Ireland will embrace it.

Schmidt’s squad and their important travelling troupe landed in the Hilton Hotel on Lakeside Way today, quite literally a Johnny Sexton spiral’s distance away from the venue where they face Romania on Sunday evening.

World Rugby don’t have a concrete figure just yet, but they do say this game is on its way to being a sell-out in the 90,000-capacity Wembley. New Zealand and Argentina drew a World Cup record crowd of 89,019 to the home of English football last weekend.

Can the visiting Irish and their numerous expat brothers and sisters go a couple of hundred better? That would be truly remarkable and the atmosphere would be a far cry from the tranquility Ireland enjoyed up in St. George’s Park.

It was a strange week in many ways, both for Schmidt’s players and those whose job it is to cover their movements and turn their thoughts into articles and videos and features of all kinds. It often didn’t feel like a World Cup was happening elsewhere.

It was a happy week for Ireland certainly, with the various fining, movie night and activity committees coming up trumps to stave off the boredom away from training. Chris Henry was ordered out of bed early one morning by the squad’s resident bully Rory Best to conjure protein pancakes for the entire group. His culinary skills earned a gold star.

There were laughs and craic in high doses, but one senses that a five-night stay was about the limit of the patience for Ireland in such isolated surroundings.

Ireland players at Alton Towers today Ireland are ready for a little more World Cup excitement. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A day trip for some shooting and to visit Alton Towers was a much-needed deflation of the intensity, although Simon Zebo apparently succumbed to the pressure in being dragged onto the rollercoasters rather than watching on with a coffee as he hoped to do.

More importantly and relevantly, Ireland got through the kind of high-quality preparation and training that Schmidt so cherishes. The stint in St. George’s Park will stand to the players in the weeks to come, especially the frontliners who have been held back from the Romania game this weekend.

The real happiness is to be back in a big city, with people all around and more talk of the Rugby World Cup to be had. Some of the staff and locals around Burton could barely tell Paul O’Connell from Paul Hewson; it seems Staffordshire is truly football country.

There was excitement for the Ireland players packing up their bags and boarding the bus for London today, after Rala had organised much of the rest of the gear. The unseen work of that Inishbofinphile and many others doesn’t go unappreciated by Schmidt.

For the trailing media there was excitement at getting beyond the gates of St. George’s Park for good this afternoon too. After a relatively calm stay, a rush to catch a train from Birmingham and the stares of fellow passengers as the sweat flowed and oversized bags bounced all over the place were an antidote rather than a stress.

The week was a peaceful one, amiable with the players and coaches, but this pack hungers for a little more of the action.

Some got a taste for it by dipping into the divergent South Africa and Japan storylines, others were sorry they could not travel both roads.

A visit to the clash between England and Wales in Twickenham tomorrow evening, one that may well bring to mind the Titans, is mightily anticipated after we watched the midweek games on big screens in pubs. Then on Sunday, the main course in Wembley.

The home of English football, filled with the fans and volunteers who make this tournament happen, will surely renew the atmospheric spirit of Cardiff last weekend.

Will we see the green jerseys gather with that same force? London might not offer the possibility of every fan packing into a central thoroughfare on the morning of the game, as St. Mary’s Street does, but we’ll be getting to Wembley early to take it all in.

We should see the fruits of Ireland’s intense labour away from the eyes of the World Cup public this past week come to bear on the pitch against what is likely to be a highly aggressive Romanian outfit.

Schmidt probably wasn’t too put out to be missing out on the World Cup action all week, but the rest of us are thrilled to be back in the thick of it.

Time to chop down the oaks.

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Murray Kinsella

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