Smal sees big things ahead for Ireland's up and coming talent
RUGBY: Autumn InternationalsGert Smal admitted yesterday that the two weeks leading into last Saturday’s meeting with South Africa were the most challenging of his four years as Irish forwards coach. But though you mightn’t, as ever, have necessarily guessed from his tone, he also revealed his excitement about the emerging talent and his clear conviction that this remodelled squad are on the right track.
“I don’t want to be giving excuses from what happened in the course of the week, but let me put it this way, I think these weeks have been the most challenging two weeks, for me specifically, with the Irish team,” he said after having to adjust to losing Stephen Ferris and Paul O’Connell in turn.
“A little of the combinations put pressure on us a little bit. If we can get a little more forward momentum, playing in the right places, be aggressive in our ball carriers, get their team-mates to be aggressive in their clear outs, we’ll start creating go-forward ball.”
Speaking at the team’s base in Carton House before their transfer to Limerick tomorrow for Saturday’s meeting with Fiji, the Springboks’ World Cup-winning forwards coach from 2007 also extracted plenty of positives from Saturday’s performance, not least the fearlessness with which Ireland took on the second best side in the world.
“It was just the ambition to beat them. The urgency and the pride that they have. I always talk about the Irish fire . . . I haven’t coached in other countries but coming from South Africa it is difficult to put words on it, there is something very special about the Irish, the way they go about their work, their ambition, their fieriness; and we saw it in their game. The South Africans won’t stand back, but neither will the Irish and that is why you see some players climbing into each other at certain stages. It is nothing different.”
“This is a special group,” he added, “a different group to what we have had in the past. They’ve got a different ambition and they also want to create their own legacy as they have said themselves. With good players coming in and out with injuries, the excitement and ambition they have to create their own legacy is quite important. That’s what I’m experiencing and there’s a lot of positive energy around at the moment.”
Smal revealed his palpable excitement over the talent of two of Saturday’s debutants, 23-year-old loosehead David Kilcoyne and 20-year-old flanker Iain Henderson, both of whom should be part of a much-changed line-up for Saturday’s match against Fiji.
Kilcoyne is “still cutting his teeth in the squad” but “is an exciting little player. You know what his nickname is? His nickname is Killer. That’s what you experience with him, in the runs, in the practice, the way he does things. He looks like a little killer. He is a great little player. We also have Stephen Archer with us now in the squad, they are both exciting little players that we can work with in the future.”
Henderson had been on their radar for a while, with an early-season run-out for the Ulster Ravens convincing Smal that this was another special player in the making.
“It’s important to see how he develops, and get his confidence up. There’s a lot of things that I like in his make-up. His size obviously; a nice ball carrier. Talking about ball-carriers, in the past we had Seán O’Brien, Stephen Ferris and Paul, in his own way, carried a fair amount of ball, which gave us a fair amount of momentum. But I think definitely he’s one of those that’s going to be very special in the future if he’s managed right.”
Although England admitted they didn’t learn much from their 54-12 romp against Fiji, who were playing in Gloucester last night, Smal maintained the intention to give an opportunity to some young players ensures “this match will be a positive in different ways”.
The Fiji match three years ago drew a crowd of almost 1,000 below the 18,000 capacity at the RDS and for that reason the IRFU wanted to move the game to a provincial venue. The game has not been granted Test status because part of the 20-year commercial deal with Aviva for naming rights of the old Lansdowne Road stipulates that all Test matches be played there.
Last Saturday’s starting XV returned to training yesterday with the only injury concerns Tommy Bowe (dead leg) and Eoin Reddan (bruised ankle).