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Irish strength is in the reserves

Outsiders get chance to lay World Cup claim

By Ruaidhri O’Connor

This is the meat in the November sandwich, but everybody's focused on the bread. Georgia's arrival at the Aviva Stadium will give the fringe players a chance to impress, but already thoughts are turning to Australia.

So, Joe Schmidt yesterday opted to rest 12 of the starting XV that took on South Africa while resisting the temptation to stack his bench with caps. With just six days to turn around for the Wallabies, it is a sensible call.

Despite the wholesale changes, the bookies are giving Ireland a 41-point start, which seems generous considering the weather forecast is pretty bleak and the visitors will be game, if limited.

Schmidt is backing his reserves to get the job done, while the first-teamers get a rest before focusing their attention on Michael Cheika's men.

The coach doesn't get many opportunities to experiment, so this is a chance for those on the margins to impress. They might not play themselves into a World Cup squad tomorrow, but they can do their prospects damage with a no-show.

Of the 254 caps in the Irish team, 70% have been won by three players; Gordon D'Arcy, Mike Ross and Eoin Reddan who leads his country for the first time.

Dave Foley and Dominic Ryan make their debuts from the start, while Robin Copeland will do the same off the bench.

Opportunity knocks and the coach says they must focus on the job in hand.

"I think you try to give them some confidence, that they're not there for show, that they've been selected to do a job because they are capable of doing that job," he said.

D'Arcy, winning his 80th cap, returns after straining his calf in Leinster's win over Castres and is expected to partner Robbie Henshaw in midfield next week if he comes through unscathed, although Jared Payne is out of his protective boot.

There might have been a temptation to partner the veteran with the highly rated Stuart Olding, but Schmidt instead handed D'Arcy the inside centre shirt while recalling Darren Cave from outside the initial squad for his first cap on home soil. "Gordon fits us as a No 12 and part of that for us is having that experience in the backline," the coach said.

"The thing with Stu is that he hasn't had that much game time this year and is still working his way back to full fitness. In the context of a guy who had almost a year out of rugby, he is just finding his feet again and we want to try and help him find his feet.

"For Ian Madigan, it's nice for him as he's trying to run the game to have Gordon outside him and Eoin Reddan inside him, so they can help him direct the team around the pitch.

"Gordon is a competitor and he wants to win, he wants to play well and he wants to help other people.

"It won't be about, 'This is my chance, I have got to do this, that or the other thing'. It's just, 'I know I have got to link in here and I've got to try to grow this group as best I can'."

For D'Arcy and the rest of the backline, the afternoon will rise and fall on the quality of ball their pack are able to deliver. The Georgian forwards will pose Ireland's set-piece problems but Schmidt has picked a powerful tight five with four players from last week's bench and debutant Foley who earned praise from the head coach.

The Lelos' pack is made up of four players who play in the French top flight, one from the English Premiership, two from France's second tier and home-based openside Viktor Kolelishvili.

"For us, a good day would be a solid set-piece. It would be to build again on our defensive effort which I think players can take a bit of pride," the coach said.

"We didn't actually have a lot of ball to attack with last week, but if there's a couple of micro-plays, or there's a couple of opportunities that we do get to maximise the potential and the opportunity that we create, and get something for it, whether it's three, five or seven points."

The impressive crowd of more than 42,000 will come expecting seven-pointers. The win over South Africa has increased expectations as the World Cup looms into view and that is something the coach and squad now have to deal with.

"No one doubts Ireland will win, it is all about performance.

As always, Schmidt will be closely observing every one of these players wondering which of them can do a job for him next September and October in England.

The front-liners have their feet up and, although they'll be at the Aviva, are already focusing on Michael Cheika's Australia.

That will be the game most of us remember, but for the 23 men involved this is an opportunity and it's up to them to take it.

Belfast Telegraph

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