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Dublin: 3 °C Saturday 14 December, 2019

Letter from London: Schmidt's men return to the big city lights for Italian test

After a quiet week of hard work in Guildford, Ireland headed back into the English capital yesterday afternoon.

Murray Kinsella reports from London

“IT’S FOR A stag. Seriously, it’s for a stag!”

You knew it was going to be a strange day when you came across this bizarre scene at the security checkpoint in Dublin Airport in the early hours of Friday morning.

The reddest of the red eyes into Heathrow awaited, crankiness was almost accepted, but this lightened the mood. There were Ireland jerseys dotted around the airport, a sign of the weekend to come, but this particular green-clad fan was packing a surprise.

Joe Schmidt with Dave Kearney Ireland trained in Guildford yesterday before moving on to London. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A suitcase packed with handcuffs and various other bondage equipment wasn’t what the security staff expected to be rummaging through five hours after midnight. We walked on past with a laugh as the Ireland supporter attempted to explain the contraband goods. A good weekend ahead?

On the other side of the journey one always looks in semi-expectation at the arrangement of taxi drivers with names scrawled on posters and cards. You know nobody’s waiting for you, but you always scan the signs just in case.

B O’Reilly, Ger Tracey, A. Singh, J Schmidt… J Schmidt? A double take to be sure, so either the Ireland head coach made a whistle-stop visit to what is now officially his homeland or some rogue was galavanting around the city under false pretences.

On to Guildford after we find a driver who has no name on a card, a swift spin down the M25 and the A3. Ireland spent their week in this quaint English town in Surrey, the main thoroughfare a curious blend between being a bastion of former glories and emblematic of the modern day high street.

Ducking into a coffee shop to meet a colleague and plan for the day ahead, an email from one of France’s World Cup squad drops into the inbox, out of the blue. There’s a question about a quote, an explanation of the misunderstanding follows, and then a friendly conversation unfolds.

How’d you feel the Canada game went?

We can do better for sure, our best is still to come. You never know with us! A confirmation from within of the mindset we so often fear.

Mike Ross Ireland are sure to lift their performance levels against Italy. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Outside on the cobblestoned High Street, colourful robed figures marched towards the Holy Trinity Church. A surreal sight after the lack of sleep the night before, but explained away casually by a local as an annual event that marks the beginning of the legal term.

So what did we miss in Guildford over the preceding week when we ducked back to Ireland and out of the little bubble around Schmidt’s group?

Ah nothing, nothing really. They’re not too happy with the Payne criticism, there were pints with the management team, Payne was on crutches. Nothing really.

After a quiet week outside the World Cup hype in Guildford, Ireland moved on to London yesterday afternoon following a press conference at which Schmidt, Johnny Sexton, Dave Kearney, Mike Ross, Richie Murphy and Iain Henderson all spoke.

As after the calm five days in Burton-on-Trent, you sense that returning to the busy surrounds of London might have been exciting for Schmidt’s men. They’re situated in the Marriott in Canary Wharf, with high-rise blocks all round them, very much an indication that this is business time now.

After settling in to the multicultural and hectic neighbourhood of East Ham, we made our way back towards Liverpool Street to take in the Kiwis’ stuttering win over Georgia. Of course the taxi driver had Irish connections.

He was of Midleton roots, a Londoner all his life, and a man who genuinely appeared to love the west coast of Ireland. “Sitting on the rocks watching the sun go down with the Atlantic all spread out in front of you, there’s nothing like it, mate, nothing like it.”

Dave Kearney and Rob Kearney The Kearney bothers warm up at Ireland's training session. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Looking out at the relentless press of people all around in London, a city where the World Cup barely registers with so many, it was impossible to disagree. Not that it isn’t a thrill to be in the English capital again. With the hosts entertaining Australia today and then Ireland taking on the Italians tomorrow, there is so much to excite.

Just as we jumped out of the taxi, our new friend stopped us.

Can you boys actually win it?

It’s possible.

I would bloody love that, mate, I’d bloody love it.

The Guinness in on Liverpool Street wasn’t the best we’ve ever tasted, but it went down a little bit sweeter as the sarcastic cheers went up around us at the latest New Zealand error.

The World Cup sometimes seems a world away in London, but it’s all around you at the very same moment. It’s good to be back amongst it.

Late tries flatter New Zealand after sloppy win against Georgia

Ireland hardman Peter O’Mahony ready to take on ‘formidable’ Italy pack

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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