Strong start essential, says Les Kiss
Brian O’Driscoll sits out training ahead of Samoa game but coach insists he will be fit
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt trains with his squad at the Aviva Stadium on Friday afternoon. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
The heavy artillery on the Ireland bench will be useless unless the starting XV subdues a potent Samoan side on Saturday, assistant coach Les Kiss has warned.
Brian O’Driscoll sat out part of Ireland’s team run at the Aviva Stadium in their final session before the opening autumn international. Specialist defensive coach Kiss confirmed the centre is fully fit to start, though, and was only rested as part of a workload agreed with head coach Joe Schmidt.
Cian Healy, new full-time captain Paul O’Connell and flanker Seán O’Brien all lie in wait on Ireland’s bench to be unleashed in the second half against the Pacific Islands nation. Experienced 50-cap scrumhalf Eoin Reddan and accomplished Leinster outhalf Ian Madigan are also named among the replacements.
Schmidt is renowned for stacking his benches to unleash a bevy of second-half talent and change the complexion of a match if required. The Kiwi will transfer that Leinster tactic to the national job - but said those assets will be useless without big impact from the starting line-up.
He explained: “You can look at that bench and say there’s a fair bit of strike power there. But that’s for later in the game. We’ve got to make sure we start the game well and put ourselves in a strong position. If we don’t do that then the bench won’t be important and won’t be able to make any impact at all.
“They are a lethal unit if they get going, so we’ve been making sure our guys have their heads in the right place for this game. When you haven’t got the ball against this team, the minute you switch off or decide to take a rest, you’ll be found out in one aspect or another.
“They’ve got some big powerful forwards who can go through the middle, or work around the edges of the ruck. Tusi Pisi is a real handful at fly-half if you give him space to work, and Johnny Leota and Pisi have built a great combination in midfield there.
“Their running lines and the way they can carry and damage a defensive line are things we need to be aware of, and they have a lot of speed. But they don’t mind kicking the ball either, in varying situations, to challenge your back field.
“It really is a challenge across the park, so defensively we’ve got to have our hats on. They can hurt you at any time, and it really is a challenge against this side. I think in the last five Tests they have averaged three tries a Test, and that’s against good teams, beating Wales amongst that, beating Scotland and Italy. So they will be very confident about where they are.”