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Ireland manager Joe Schmidt faces baptism of fire

By Niall Crozier

Tomorrow will see Joe Schmidt announce his first Test match 23 since succeeding Declan Kidney as Ireland's head coach.

With his squad top-heavy with Leinster players – 17 of them, no less, plus ex-Blue Jonathan Sexton – the smart money is on a line-up featuring a preponderance of personnel from that particular province.

But let's hope it will not be a case of Leinster in green shirts, for one would like to think that Schmidt's 15 starters and eight replacements against Samoa on Saturday evening (5.45pm) will reflect current form ahead of any other consideration.

One way or another we don't have long to wait now.

Saturday's match will be Ireland's second Guinness Series encounter with Samoa and if the outcome is the same as when they last visited – November 2010 when the hosts won 20-10 – no-one in the home camp will be complaining.

This is supposedly the easiest of the three forthcoming Tests, but anyone who believes the Samoans will be anything other than formidable opponents could be in for a very rude awakening.

They are ranked seventh in the world and to put that in context Ireland, Scotland and Argentina are eighth, ninth and tenth respectively. Note, too, that during the summer the Samoans were winners against Scotland (29-17) and Italy (39-10) – and then remember that the Scots and the Italians both beat Ireland in last season's Six Nations.

A week later it is Australia who will provide the challenge and having lost two-thirds – 20 out of 30 – of their previous meetings with the Wallabies, Ireland know that the visitors merit the utmost respect despite their recent poor results.

Some day soon they are going to click again and when they do, their opponents can expect to feel a mighty backlash, but Ireland's record in their last five matches against the Aussies is good; including the November 2006 meeting, it is won two, drawn one, lost two, points for 81, against 72.

Finally, on November 24, Ireland face New Zealand – the world's best – knowing no Irish side has ever beaten the All Blacks. Ireland's record? Played 27, won none, drawn one, lost 26, points for 288, against 788. Enough said.

So what would be a good start to the new dispensation? I'd settle for victories over Samoa and Australia plus a decent display against New Zealand, who won 60-0 when last the sides met in June 2012.

Belfast Telegraph


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