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It's now time for players to peak, says Ireland skipper Rory Best

 

Hands on: Rory Best during yesterday’s Captain’s Run at the International Stadium, Yokohama
Hands on: Rory Best during yesterday’s Captain’s Run at the International Stadium, Yokohama
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

Ireland skipper Rory Best is not concerned about a lack of experience in Ireland's backline for tomorrow's World Cup opener with Scotland believing the squad possess a positive blend of youth and experience.

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The 37-year-old Ulsterman will win his 121st cap in Yokohama and has, by some distance, banked the most Test mileage of Joe Schmidt's 31-man travelling party. Next on that list, though, would be Rob Kearney who misses out through injury. As does Keith Earls, himself the owner of 78 caps.

Indeed when the absence of Robbie Henshaw, whose relative Test inexperience belies his role as a defensive leader, is taken into account, eight of the 10 backs in Ireland's matchday 23 are tasting World Cup action for the first time.

While Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray have both been here twice over, the remainder have totalled just 104 caps in their short Test careers, not many more than the 95 Kearney would have supplied on his own.

Best, who joins Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll by representing Ireland at a fourth tournament, countered that there was nothing wrong with some youthful exuberance.

"This squad has got a lot of depth," he said. "It's a reasonably young squad but they still have a lot of caps when you look down the list. There are even people in there which surprise you with the number of the caps they have.

"Ultimately, when you get to a World Cup, you need players peaking at the right time and in form but a little bit of experience counts for a lot as well.

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"We've got that and a bit of youth as well and I think people are just excited.

"Players love playing in big games and for me there's nothing bigger than the World Cup.

"It's funny, coming here and the team room has World Cup games from the last number of years on repeat it seems. It's just exciting to be at a global competition where you get to pit yourself against the best players in the world. It's going to be a big kick-off against Scotland but you have to start somewhere and I think that probably gets you more excited."

The issue of experience was, of course, a matter for discussion when the 31-man squad was named too, the decision to leave Devin Toner at home raising eyebrows and filling column inches long after the debate surrounding most squads had finished.

While there were times over the summer it seemed Schmidt was bracing Iain Henderson for the role of an impact bench player given the importance placed upon dynamism among the replacements but the number of big games under his belt has stood to him in selection.

"That was a relatively long discussion," said Schmidt of the decision over his second-row pairing.

"James Ryan has come back in for these last two games and done really well.

"He's of known value to us. Iain Henderson's almost got 50 caps.

"He was involved in the big games in the World Cup last time. I think to have that experience is really important, particularly in the first game out. For Jean to find his way into the tournament, I've no doubt he will feature in some really important games for us.

"Coming off the bench, Tadhg Beirne has the ability to change the game up a bit so we felt his versatility across the whole back five, specifically in the second row for us, he gets great pressure in the ball.

"He has a little more time with us than Jean so we felt for continuity we would go with that combination."

It will likely mean line-out calling responsibility, such a key area of the game that misfired notably during the summer, will fall on Henderson's shoulders too, although James Ryan was again preaching collective responsibility when it comes to the set-piece.

"I really enjoy playing alongside Hendy," said his fellow lock. "He's a real smart player and I think he is really physical.

"Whenever he's going forward, he's such a big man everyone follows behind but he's really intelligent in the lineout too. Hendy, Pete (O'Mahony) and myself will hopefully share the responsibility a bit in that area.

"And if Pete and myself see opportunities in the line, we'll feed that back to him."

Ireland vs Scotland

World Cup Pool A

Nissan Stadium, Yokohama; Sunday, 8.45am

How they line-up

Teams for World Cup clash between Ireland and Scotland in Yokahama (Sunday 8.45am): T: J Larmour (Leinster), A Conway (Munster), G Ringrose (Leinster), B Aki (Connacht), J Stockdale (Ulster), J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster, capt), T Furlong (Leinster) I Henderson (Ulster), J Ryan (Leinster), P O'Mahony (Munster), J Van Der Flier (Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster).

Replacements: N Scannell, D Kilcoyne (both Munster), A Porter (Leinster), T Beirne (Munster), J Conan, L McGrath (both Leinster), J Carty (Connacht), C Farrell (Munster).

Scotland: S Hogg (Exeter Chiefs); T Seymour (Glasgow Warriors), D Taylor (Saracens), S Johnson (Glasgow Warriors), S Maitland (Saracens); F Russell (Racing 92), G Laidlaw (Clermont Auvergne); A Dell (London Irish), S McInally (capt, Edinburgh), W Nel (Edinburgh), G Gilchrist (Edinburgh), J Gray (Glasgow Warriors), J Barclay (Edinburgh), H Watson (Edinburgh), R Wilson (Glasgow Warriors).

Replacements: F Brown (Glasgow Warriors), G Reid (Ayrshire Bulls), S Berghan (Edinburgh), S Cummings (Glasgow Warriors), B Thomson (Scarlets), A Price (Glasgow Warriors), C Harris (Gloucester), D Graham (Edinburgh).

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