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Rugby World Cup: Ireland ready for take-off as they set out on a mission

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

File this one under 'no win'. For all Ireland will talk up Canada this week, the reality is that they will get a result on Saturday. Anything less and they might as well go home.

Thorough professional that he is, Joe Schmidt took his coaching staff to the Stoop the day after his side had lost to England to take in Canada's 47-18 defeat to Fiji. He would have seen plenty of opportunity and nothing to overly concern him.

Still, he is expected to treat the opening fixture of this World Cup with the utmost respect by naming his strongest possible side and, while securing the expected result is the priority, the important part for Ireland lies in how they go about their business.

For all that the calibre of opponents is a drop in class, Canada will be fired up and throwing themselves into their opponents with abandon.

That will present a challenge for Schmidt's side, but it is one they should be able to negotiate while building towards more difficult days to come.

He will target Canada's weaknesses while looking to accentuate his team's strengths. So, what should we expect?

Ireland have gotten the upper hand on Wales, Scotland and England at set-piece time all summer and, with Schmidt expected to name a high-calibre front-row of Jack McGrath, Ulsterman Rory Best and Mike Ross today, they should be able to obliterate Canada at scrum-time.

Simon Easterby and Greg Feek would have been rubbing their hands with glee as they watched Fiji drive the men in red backwards repeatedly at Harlequins' ground.

The Islanders are renowned for many things, but scrummaging is not one of them and Ireland's hardened core of props should be licking their lips. Canada like a risky off-load, which means that scrums come frequently, and that should afford the Six Nations champions entry points into the game.

Ireland's lineout is a key attacking weapon and many of their tries come out of touch.

Like the scrum, their maul functioned well in the warm-ups despite the struggles elsewhere.

Canada's lineout is run by Jamie Cudmore, who prefers to shorten in his own half, and Ireland will see opportunities around the three-man options.

Ireland will look to force turnovers on the Canadian throw and win penalties on their scrum. If they can do so, it will give them the ideal platform from which to launch attacks.

It's a virtue Ireland will need because, for all of their shortcomings, the Canadians are willing tacklers who can stay in through long series of phases when they go into their own 22.

Fiji succeeded from deep, but they have a special set of attacking weapons. Ireland prefer to build their attacks through a series of rucks before striking.

In 2013, Schmidt was in the stands as an Ireland side coached by Les Kiss and captained by Peter O'Mahony racked up a 40-14 win over Saturday's opponents in Toronto.

The scoreline flattered them a little, however, as up until Fergus McFadden's second try on 58 minutes it was a tight, one-score game before the tourists closed it out.

Canada had their moments, but Ireland knew that if they kept making their opponents make tackles they would eventually break the siege.

Canada's resistance has a short lifespan.

Ireland were dominated in different ways by both Wales and England in their last few warm-ups and Schmidt will want to see a different beast at the ruck this week.

In defence, he will want to see O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip getting their hands on Canada's ball, while in attack he wants Conor Murray getting an armchair ride from whoever is nearest the breakdown.

Schmidt's side have relied on quick ruck-speed for their attack.

He'll want to see his players dominate that area.

If Ireland can guarantee themselves quick ball, then they have the backline tools to unlock the Canadians.

With Murray and Johnny Sexton dictating the pace, Schmidt will hope to bring Robbie Henshaw on to the ball from deep to get over the gainline and use the subtle skills of Ulster's Jared Payne.

Bigger challenges lie ahead, but this is a chance for Ireland to get back into good habits.

Belfast Telegraph


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