Ireland draw line in sand after historic All Blacks win
Simon Easterby says focus switched to Canada after return home of victorious squad
Ireland assistant coach Simon Easterby with Joe Schmidt. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
There was a surfeit of enthusiasm, both from a handful of frontline players that missed out on the team’s history-making victory over New Zealand in Chicago and those hoping to win a first cap against the Canadians.
The challenge for players like Seán O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony, Keith Earls and Iain Henderson, to highlight four, will be to get-in and then stay-in for the ensuing games against the All Blacks and Wallabies.
The shoulder injury that forced Henderson to retire at half-time in Ulster’s Champions Cup victory over the Exeter Chiefs last month appears to have cleared up. Forwards coach Simon Easterby confirmed: “Everyone is available to train and assist the team that gets picked.”
Joe Schmidt will announce the team on Thursday lunchtime and the external consensus is that there will be wholesale changes. Easterby offered a non-specific overview. “When players came into camp [on Monday night], for the ones that weren’t involved [in Chicago] there was a bit of buzz and anticipation for what they might be able to bring this weekend.
“We have to park up what we did on Saturday. Those players that had the opportunity – and to a man they were outstanding – but they know that that’s sort of banked and they have to move on. The players who get the opportunity to start this weekend have got to draw a line in the sand and start again.”
The Irish management has no concerns over Jonathan Sexton, who was substituted with cramp in Chicago. Easterby put Sexton’s heavy-leggedness down to a lack of game time, and while the outhalf will train he’s unlikey to feature against Canada. This will offer Schmidt the opportunity to look at Paddy Jackson and last weekend’s debutant Joey Carbery.
“Joey coming in was fantastic for him, in terms of getting capped,” said Easterby. “He settled in seamlessly, in terms of the week and when he came onto the pitch. He had a big hand in finishing the game out which is where he took over from Johnny.
“With Paddy, he was outstanding in South Africa [during the summer], a real leader out there, and leading the team to victory in Cape Town.
“He’s obviously dealing with other things outside of the environment, which we’ll leave him get on with, but in terms of what he’s doing here, he’s focused on trying to perform if selected this week.
“At the moment we’ve got three guys there. Ian Madigan is out in France and he was unavailable last weekend but he’s another guy who would be real quality and has been in the environment before. So we’ve got some real depth in that position and options in different styles as well.”
He also offered some background into the decision to ask O’Mahony and O’Brien to play for their provinces rather than travel to America. “I think it was good that we didn’t take them to Chicago and play against New Zealand, for a number of reasons.
“They’ve come back from long-term injuries. We were really comfortable with what we took to Chicago. We felt the combinations were right in the backrow.
“Both of them got game-time at the weekend. It’s great that we’ve got those guys coming back into the mix.”
Confidence is growing and Easterby argues that the players are not lacking belief in their ability to accumulate milestones. “We’ve done a few things over the years that have been those ‘firsts.’
“Winning in South Africa and again on the weekend was a first. I don’t think players lack for confidence or self-belief. They’re the furthest thing from arrogant but it’s a positive thing that they feel comfortable in their own skin and what they can achieve as individuals and a group.”
The priority over the next few days is Canada. “We have some good footage of certain things that they’ve done consistently over the last year or so under [former Ulster coach] Mark Anscombe.
“They’ve got some really quality individuals. Taylor Paris and DTH van der Merwe are both playing at the top end of the European game and their forward pack is effective, as we saw in the World Cup when we played against them in Cardiff.
“Our focus is going to be ourselves in terms of what we can do, but also, as we always do, make sure that we know the opposition really well so we can negate their threats.”