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So we roll into the opening game of the November series expectant like a woman who is 10 months pregnant. But what will we get? Much like the expectant mother, we are not really too sure.
Ireland arrived in Chicago with a team that is like a teenager driving the family car for the first time. The trust has been given, but they still have to drive the car in traffic. The gap between the perceived starters and backups has never been closer and this game against the Italians will be a great showing of that point. People speak about meaningless games and say that this is one, but I don’t see it that way at all. All of the players are good enough to start in a big game. All of the players at home in Carton house know that if the starters in Chicago put in a good showing then the jersey pressure will increase. Joe has moved Ireland from a ‘name on the jersey’ situation to ‘jersey pressure’, which I am sure increases intensity in training. All part of a master plan.
But, for that master plan to work, Ireland need to produce. Whether you are a ‘starter’ or a backup, you must perform or you will be on the end of some of Joe’s mythical ruthlessness.
The Irish team to face Italy:
Every one of the selected players has earned the trust of the coach and the coaching team, so now it is time to repay that trust. Systems must fire, points must be scored and the big change from last year must happen. Ireland MUST NOT concede tries. Remember that Keith Earls saved the scoreboard the last time the teams met with a 612 metre try saving tackle in the closing minutes, so Ireland must start strong and aggressively and really put the pressure on from the opening whistle. No allowing Italy to have to ball because they really have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It doesn’t really matter if it is 5-0 or 500-0 to them if they can put in a performance. Ireland need the win. Pundits are saying the result isn’t important, but again that is nonsense. Ireland cannot afford to lose any games this November. The systems must fire the games must be won and a message must be sent to the other teams ahead of the 6 Nations / RWC year upcoming.
So how will the game go?
Ireland will get on the scoreboard early, first points being a penalty due to pressure within the first 5 minutes scored by Carbery. Then Ireland will march forward and put points on the board through tries. The players know that the magnifying glass is on them and they are not outside the possibility of wearing a tracksuit on match day for the rest of the series.
Italy can see the threats ahead of them. The Irish team have been performing for their provinces, the main unknown being the new cap Will Addison and I think he will get on with 55-60 minutes on the clock and score. He is magic and by the time he gets on, the Italians will be beaten and he will score a try. The question is, who doesn’t he come on for? Wing, fullback or centre. If you look at the squad he may come on for Ringrose who is the most likely of the starting midfield partnership to be wearing a jersey against the All Blacks. Either way, Addison impresses on the day.
So in this November series, Ireland have the chance to go top in the world, if only for a few minutes. The All Blacks are bringing 8 debutants on tour and everything appears to be lining up for Ireland. But for the mind games we spoke about earlier in the week to work, Ireland need to produce at about 90% of their optimal for the duration of the series.
They will do that on Saturday night! If you are in Chicago, enjoy the day, if you are at home watching it, then enjoy the night!
Ireland march on to the other old enemy, Argentina, with a big performance in their back pocket!