Keith Earls and Luke Fitzgerald still in running
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt expecting another huge physical clash against England
Ireland’s Keith Earls tackles George North resulting in him being taken off injured during the World Cup warm-up match against Wales at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
All the indications in the aftermath of Saturday’s anti-climactic end to Paul O’Connell’s magnificent Test career on home soil, along with Ireland’s nine-game winning run at the Aviva Stadium, were that Keith Earls and Luke Fitzgerald would not be ruled out of consideration for the World Cup.
Joe Schmidt re-affirmed that Earls had been lucid in the dressing-room afterwards before observing the return-to-play protocols, while Fitzgerald’s bruised ribs should clear up within a week. “I don’t think that some of the injuries [were] as bad as they looked. Obviously Keith’s was a real concern.
“You’ve got to make sure that everything is 100 per cent, albeit having had a discussion with him after the game, he was totally lucid, and he remembered his involvements in the game, so there’s a couple of promising signs I guess.”
The latest injury woes for Earls and Fitzgerald, without whom the midfield cupboard would be dangerously bare, will not defer finalisation of the squad, which has to be submitted to World Cup organisers by 5pm on Monday. But England and Twickenham are looming on Saturday, with each side seeking to avoid going into the World Cup on the back of two successive defeats.
“It’s a bit of a Catch-22, because we need to get into camp and we need to start working,” said Schmidt. “I’ve no doubt it’s going to be incredibly physical after the game that England played last time. So some of those guys who go back to their provinces, they need to get the game time to prepare them for potentially joining us and heading off to the World Cup.
“I said to the players in the changing room after the game, it is going to be very, very tough. They are going to look to rebound from France and they are going to bring a really physical performance to Twickenham to lay down a marker.
“The starting XV [against England] won’t be the same as it was today, but I’d say there’ll be some consistency as well.
“We need to get some cohesion, we were described as narrow and we probably were at times,” said Schmidt, admittedly in a seemingly aggrieved response to comments by Warren Gatland which appeared to damn Ireland with faint praise.
“I don’t think Ireland play a lot of rugby,” said the Welsh coach beforehand. “I thought they were really narrow at times. When they play that game effectively and use their one-off runners and get some success at cross kicks, that’s what they are good at doing. They are good at pressurising you and forcing you into turnovers and building a score. But when they played with the ball in hand we didn’t feel like we were under a huge amount of pressure.”
Describing Ireland as a “quality side”, Gatland added: “I am not being critical of Ireland because what Joe and that Irish team have achieved is absolutely outstanding. They have got a formula that has been successful for them and I am sure they will tweak a few things and look to try to add things to the game.”
Asked for his reaction, initially Schmidt retorted: “My reaction to that is that is a perception and he is totally entitled to it. When you do win you can probably make those comments.”
He subsequently added: “We certainly ran out of width in our attack, although we could have scored twice in the opening 10 minutes with some pretty good width in our attack, which obviously might have been overlooked.”
Clearly livid with the 15-8 penalty count against his team, Schmidt said: “The most penalties we’ve ever conceded in a game is 12, before today, and that’s really frustrating because it’s something we pride ourselves on. I’m not sure too many Test matches are won if you concede 15 penalties.”
Wales certainly lived on the edge of the offside line, only once being penalised, and at the behest of a linesman. “I do think that it will be really sanctioned in the World Cup, the referees will want the World Cup to have a lot more flow than what it did today, they’ll want people out of the tackle area and guys behind the hindmost foot.”
We shall see.