Friday, November 14, 2014

Preview : #IRLvGEO


When the schedule for this year's Guinness Series was first announced, most Irish fans would have focused on the clashes with the Springboks and Wallabies, taking Georgia as your classic "one to use for blooding young players".

Not so Eddie O'Sullivan, I'd venture.  His reaction was probably something along the lines of "Ah, feck."

Having done a lot of media work himself, he's know full well that the one match in his coaching career he'd like to forget was bound to be brought back into public consciousness around the time the Georgians came to Dublin.  And sure enough, that's pretty much all anyone can talk about.

But that's kind of an easy narrative, isn't it? The game of rugby union has come on in leaps and bounds since RWC2007, particularly here in Ireland.  Two Six Nations titles and four Heineken Cups for us in that time.  Meanwhile Georgia has gone from a promising Tier Two nation to, well, a promising Tier Two Nation.

Now, to be fair, it does appear that a lot of work has been done in the country to bring the game forward.  Check out the latest episode of the new "Down The Blind Side" podcast where Peter O'Reilly interviews Mark Egan of the IRB.  

They talk about how with both government and IRB help, the infrastructure for the game has greatly progressed within the country and as most of us are aware, they now boast an abundance of quality players in specialist positions, namely in the front row where they have about around a dozen plying their trade in the Top14.

Of course it's great to hear that the game is doing so well there, but given that the bookies have Ireland to scratch the seven-year itch since Bordeaux to the tune of a margin of victory just short of six converted tries, I'd say their chances of dining at the top table of Europe rugby are still decades away.

But let's get back to focusing on the here and now for Ireland shall we.  After the dizzy heights of last weekend, what can Joe Schmidt do this weekend to enhance his reputation even further? If indeed that is possible?

Well it would appear to be quite simple.  Just take that 41-point spread from the bookies and pin it to the dressing-room wall.  "Beat that, lids!"

Often in matches like this you see individuals trying to impress on their coaches so that they stand out and can thus be counted on for duty when the big hitters are in town.  I have a feeling that such an attitude won't wash with Mr Schmidt.

Sure, there is a massive change in personnel with his matchday 23, but I very much doubt he will be expecting much less than last weekend when it comes to execution.  Which of course means that combinations will have to work together, structures will have to be kept in place and set routines will have to be carried out when called upon.

Ironically the most interesting name on the teamsheet is one that was also there last weekend - Mike Ross needs the game time but his inclusion would naturally be there to show the utmost respect to the Georgian front row at scrum time.  

But there could be another reason Ross starts - Schmidt could well be laying down an even tougher gauntlet to the rest of the team - "I only want to play him for the first half - make sure the match is over as a contest by then."

Elsewhere we have Ian Madigan lining out at 10.  It will be interesting to see how well he does and if it's a good outing, could this possibly affect his status back at Leinster.  

It won't hurt him to have his team mate Eoin Reddan (captain for the day, bravo) with him at halfback and with Murray and Sexton catching world-wide attention with their display last week, this will be a chance for these two to cement their places as primary backup, though Marmion on the bench will be chomping at the bit to show what he can do at this level.

If that 41 point spread is to be beaten, Madigan will have to get the makeshift backline singing from the off, and hopefully he will get the most out of his back three of Zebo, Gilroy and Felix Jones.  According to the reports from our secret agent who watched Georgia play Tonga last week however, their centre pairing of Sharikadze & Kacharava keep a decent watch on their channel so our best chances may be out wide.

Then we have our own centre pairing of D'Arcy and Cave.  They certainly have a lot to live up to after Henshaw and Payne last week and with the latter struggling with a foot injury, there is bound to be a feeling that there's a starting role to face the Wallabies to play for.  Watch also for a cameo off the bench from Stuart Olding, who has more than earned this chance for a cap.

Now we must look at the pack - because whatever about the abilities of our backline to score points, it won't be much use if our forwards are caught up on the wrong side of a dogfight.  It's great to see the form shown by Dave Foley and Dom Ryan for their provinces this season rewarded and you can be sure the Irish coaching staff will have them well prepared.

They definitely have their work cut out because as well as the Georgian centres, their flankers Tkhilaishvili & Koleshvili were doing the lion's share of the tackling & turning over in Tblisi so the breakdown area will have to be conquered in the early stages.

Hopefully we will have a comfortable enough lead when we go into our bench for the forwards, but just in case there are plenty from the win over the Boks to call on, plus Robin Copeland who would definitely be well up for a battle if that's what is required.

So like it always seems to be these days looking ahead to Ireland matches, it is down to us as fans to put our trust in Joe.  I'm still going to keep my prediction conservative and I'm going for a 25-point winning margin, if for no other reason than the cobbled-together nature of the starting fifteen.  We may run in a couple of late tries to stretch the margin but I can't see it reaching forty.

Go on lads, prove me wrong.

#ShoulderToShoulder #JLP

GEORGIA : 15. Merab Kvirikashvili 14. T. Mtchedlidze 13. David Kacharava (capt) 12. merab sharik’adze 11. Sandro Todua 10. Lasha Khmaladze 9. giorgi begadze

1. mikheil nariashvili, 2. shalva mamukashvili, 3. davit’ k’ubriashvili, 4. kote mik’autadze, 5. giorgi nemsadze, 6. giorgi t’khilaishvili, 7. vito kolelishvili, 8. dimitri basilaia

BENCH - 16. simon maisuradze, 17. zurab zhvania, 18. levan ch’ilach’ava, 19. levan dat’unashvili, 20. giorgi ch’khaidze, 21. vazha khuts’ishvili, 22. lasha malaghuradze, 23. muraz giorgadze




Guinness Series, Aviva Stadium, 2.30pm 

(live RTÉ Two/Sky Sports 2 HD/RTÉ Radio 1/IRFU Live Blog)
Referee : JP Doyle (RFU) 
AR1 : Luke Pearce (RFU) 
AR2 : Federico Anselmi (UAR) 
TMO : Jim Yuille (SRU)
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