He may have led his side out for the final time at the Aviva Stadium today, but for Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, the importance of the Rugby World Cup in Japan meant he could not get too wrapped up in the occasion.
A well-earned victory over Wales for the second weekend running provides Ireland with considerable momentum heading into their Pool A opener against Scotland on Sunday, September 22. Speaking afterwards, Schmidt’s post-match thoughts were already on that Yokohama clash.
“The focus of the World Cup is huge, so you’re immediately starting to think in terms of our next game,” he explained. “Obviously Scotland have had a couple of big wins against Georgia and a good win against France after doing similar to what we did against England, in not really being ready to go from the very start.
“That’s the nature of these pre-World Cup Test matches, where people are trialling combinations and people are at various stages of preparation. For me, it’s been good to take the emotion out of it, as emotionally connected as I am to the team and the performance to the Aviva Stadium and what it’s meant over the last 10 years.
“I was here at the first game of rugby with my kids watching an Under-20 game with the four provinces mixed into two teams. Ever since then I’ve had some really special experiences just being here and absorbing the atmosphere.
“It’s phenomenal for such an open stadium the volume of noise that gets created. We are incredibly lucky with the support that we have and that was very evident with the reception that Rory (Best) got coming off the pitch today.”
Indeed, the emotion Schmidt did allow himself in the minutes that followed this afternoon’s encounter was that of relief. Given how close the start of the Rugby World Cup is, he was pleased to see the majority of his troops coming through the game unscathed.
Cian Healy was withdrawn at half-time for a head injury assessment, and Keith Earls came off with a quad injury, but the Ireland boss was otherwise able to report a clean bill of health.
“After a game, relief is probably the primary emotion. Just because hopefully we’ve negotiated that. The boys who came off seemed in really good spirits. We’ve hopefully gotten through that unscathed. That’s always the most important thing. Then we’ve got a performance that we can be proud of, I think. The first quarter of the game we couldn’t hang onto the ball.
“I think we made 40 tackles as opposed to them having made six tackles in that early part of the game. I thought we did a really good job defensively and then we built our way into the game. I felt we dominated the last quarter. It wasn’t necessarily pretty to watch, but it was nice to get that result.”
On just his third appearance in an Ireland jersey, Schmidt felt that Jean Kleyn was ‘solid, not spectacular’. Nonetheless, he believes the Munster lock has the tools to become a key figure for Ireland in Japan, with the other second rows, including man-of-the-match James Ryan, adding their own unique flavours to the Irish pack.
“Jean’s a good man for us in the engine room. He can carry okay as well. He’s a big man. I think across the board there was a real work ethic out there today. It wasn’t flash, but it was functional. Sometimes when you’re building towards something you want functional. I think James Ryan is James Ryan really.
“He just keeps setting a bar for himself and then looking to jump a little bit higher. I thought Iain Henderson added some value and we’ve Tadhg Beirne too, so it’s going to be a good contest for those spots. They are four quite different profiles of second row. So it allows us a little flexibility in how we change up the game, during a game or from game-to-game.”
Schmidt also has a number of options in midfield as Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose and Chris Farrell are vying for the two starting berths. The old Connacht centre partnership of Aki and Henshaw received the nod on this occasion and repaid Schmidt’s faith with a pair of powerhouse performances.
“Those two know each other inside-out. They are good friends, they are good players together. I thought Robbie’s first carry, when he gets that ball in behind the line, Bundee knows exactly where to be and punches onto that ball really well. Instead of us just having a ruck on the edge of our 22, suddenly we’re going forward to the next ruck.
“Defensively they got to space. I do think that our midfield defence with those two was really strong as well. We’d have real confidence in all four midfielders we have, especially that they are very good defenders. They are going to compete for spots.
“Some of it is about the combinations, and the fact that Bundee and Robbie know each other well. Then Robbie and Garry Ringrose have been playing together for Leinster and they know each other well. Chris Farrell has never let us down, so there’s a mix there.”
A number of firsts have been achieved by this Ireland squad over the course of Schmidt’s coaching reign. Victories against the southern Hemisphere giants of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa spring to mind, while 2015 saw them retain the Six Nations title for the first time in 66 years.
Another milestone was ticked off the list today with Ireland’s return to form propelling them to the number one position in the World Rugby Rankings. Although he sees it a notable feat for Ireland, Schmidt still believes his native New Zealand will be the team to beat at the tournament in Japan.
“I didn’t even realise that we were (number one in the rankings) until I did an interview after the game. That’s how far away from our thoughts it’s been. It’s a label, it’s a nice label to get and it’s a nice…first time that we’ve been in that position.
“We have been lucky enough to tick a few firsts off with this group in the last six years. But that label is not going to be relevant to anyone. We all know who the favourites are for the Rugby World Cup, and it’s not us.”
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IRFU Outline Difficult Road Ahead At Annual Council Meeting
The Annual Council Meeting of the Irish Football Rugby Union has been advised that despite ongoing work across the professional and domestic game to ensure the continuing safe participation in rugby, the IRFU is still at significant financial risk due to the persisting impact of COVID 19.
Patrick Kennedy, Honorary Treasurer, told delegates at the on-line meeting that despite many positive developments such as the ongoing vaccination rollout, successful pilot test events and the gradual relaxation of government restrictions, that rugby is “far from out of the woods”.
Kennedy outlined that without the assistance and commitment of government, sponsors, broadcasters, and patrons the IRFU would not have survived as it has, and that continued support remains vital.
Advising that the IRFU’s financial year end would move permanently to 31 July, to ensure alignment with the new global season, Kennedy confirmed that a full financial update will be issued from the Union in November following the presentation of the audited accounts for 2020/21 to the meeting of the IRFU Council at that time.
At the meeting it was confirmed that current President, Des Kavanagh, Senior Vice President, John Robinson and Junior Vice President, Greg Barrett, will remain in their respective roles for the forthcoming season, due to the impact COVID 19 had on their terms in office last season.
On the day that Munster’s Fiona Steed and Connacht’s Yvonne Comer (pictured) were appointed to the Union Committee, delegates were reminded that, following approval of governance changes at a special EGM in June, from 2023 a minimum of one in four nominees to the IRFU Committee from each Province must be female.
IRFU Thank Government For Support
Speaking of the challenging environment Philip Browne, CEO, told irishrugby.ie,
“Irish Rugby is continuing to grapple with the most significant financial crisis in our history and we are expecting to report another year of losses in 2021, when our audited accounts are released later this year.”
The key issue remains the absence of fans at provincial grounds and the Aviva Stadium. The IRFU continues to address this particularly through its active participation in the cross-sport working party on return of fans to stadia. “We have made encouraging progress in recent weeks with the return of increasing numbers of supporters to various sporting and cultural events, which leaves us hopeful that fans may return in meaningful numbers to our grounds in Autumn. I would like to thank the government, in particular Minister Chambers and his department officials for their commitment to facilitating the safe progressive return of fans to stadia.
“As the only sporting organisation fully supporting a professional game, we are dependent on the national and provincial teams’ ability to generate revenues which have been decimated by the impact of COVID restrictions since March 2020.” Browne added.
Looking back at his most challenging season at the helm of Irish Rugby, Browne reiterated that the IRFU had to implement a 10% permanent cost base reduction, approved by the Union in March of this year and with that came some difficult decisions, despite a critically important grant of €18m from government in respect of loss of revenues in 2020.
“As in many industries, regrettably we have had job losses and pay cuts across the organisation for the last 12 months while we also eliminated all non-critical overheads.”
Looking at forward financial projections Browne outlined ‘We understand that Sport Ireland and the Department are discussing, with government, proposals for additional emergency funding for sport. We made a submission to Minister Chambers setting out expected further significant cash income losses for the IRFU and Provinces in 2021 arising from COVID 19 restrictions.
The meeting heard that the bulk of the 2021 losses are already realised as the 2020/21 season has now concluded and the IRFU, alone, has suffered a 47% reduction in turnover for the six months to the end of June 2021, compared to the first half of 2019.
Browne explained, “Our two largest income-generating home games every two years against England and France were held behind closed doors with a loss of match income of over €16m. These are the games that keep Irish Rugby going.”
The challenges for rugby are clear and without the assistance of the government’s EWSS employment supports, which the IRFU and Provinces continue to receive, and the PAYE debt warehousing scheme, Browne said that the IRFU would now be facing a more bleak situation.
“The schemes available from the government are vitally important to on-going operations, but these result in accumulated debt of c. €30m in PAYE to date, this will eventually have to be paid.
“Without additional government funding in 2021, and a return of fans to our stadia in meaningful numbers later this year, the IRFU would once again have to review all activities and swiftly implement another round of very unpalatable cost reductions. Further cuts, if necessary, would have a significant impact on the organisation and all activities from grassroots to pro game pathways.”
Searching for a positive in the current environment Brown said “The importance of pathways and programmes is always at the forefront of our minds and is perfectly demonstrated by the huge success of our men’s sevens team qualifying for the Olympics, for the first time.
“We also managed to host all of our International match fixtures and all, but one, Provincial game in Ireland, albeit behind closed doors. We also continued supporting the severely restricted levels of club activities. This was done safely thanks to the development, implementation, and compliance across Irish Rugby of robust COVID 19 protocols.
“I would like to thank our committee and playing and non-playing staff for their commitment, and of course the volunteers across our clubs for doing their very best to ensure that Irish Rugby continued to function and emerge from this crisis.
“It is important we acknowledge these achievements, given the disruption and challenges we have all experienced this year. As is always the case, success on the pitch can give the whole nation a lift including this week’s historic first involvement of an Ireland Sevens team at the Olympic Games.”
Source – Irish Rugby
World Rugby applies 50/22 law trial globally, bolster concussion protocol
World Rugby announced on Wednesday five law trials which will start next month, including a so-called “50/22” kicking adaptation.
The 50/22 change allows a team to gain a throw-in inside the opposition’s 22-metre area by kicking the ball to touch with at least one bounce from their own half.
The rule was used in recent Super Rugby tournaments and its primary intention is to “encourage the defensive team to put more players in the backfield, thereby creating more attacking space and reducing defensive line speed”, according to the sport’s governing body.
The other laws to come into force on a temporary basis from August 1 include a goal-line drop-out if the ball is held up in the in-goal area, if there is a knock-on from an attacking player in the same area or an attacking kick is grounded by the defenders in their own in-goal.
There are also restrictions on attacking players latching onto team-mates from a ruck and clean-outs which target or drop weight onto the lower limbs at the breakdown.
The final trial allows for a one-player latch before contact, but the individual must “observe all of the requirements for a first arriving player, particularly the need to stay on their feet”.
World Rugby has also moved to strengthen concussion protocols, with independent specialists set to review cases when Test players return to action after a head injury.
They will launch a panel of Independent Concussion Consultants (ICCs) to provide expert opinion on whether players are ready to return to action after head knocks.
The global governing body will fully fund the process for Test-level competitions, with ICCs asked to rule when players look to return to action 10 days or fewer after a concussion or on players deemed higher risk due to previous head-injury history.
England name 8 new caps for USA clash
Eddie Jones has named his England team for this weekend’s Test match against USA.
Eight uncapped players are set to make their debuts at Twickenham Stadium on Sunday 4 July (2pm KO).
Lewis Ludlow will captain the side at blind-side flanker, with Sam Underhill at open-side flanker and Callum Chick at No.8.
Ellis Genge (loose-head prop) will be vice-captain and is joined by Curtis Langdon (hooker) and Joe Heyes (tight-head prop) in the front row.
Locks Josh McNally and Charlie Ewels complete the tight five.
Henry Slade, the most-capped player in the squad, will be at outside centre with Ollie Lawrence at inside centre. Marcus Smith will start at fly half and Harry Randall is at scrum half.
Freddie Steward is at full back, while Max Malins (left) and Joe Cokanasiga (right) are on the wings in attack.
Among the finishers there are four further uncapped players who could make their first appearance for England – Jamie Blamire, Trevor Davison, Ben Curry and Jacob Umaga. Beno Obano, Ted Hill, Lewis Ludlam and Dan Robson are also named as finishers.
Jones said: “Over the past three weeks our biggest message to the players is what an opportunity this is to show what they can do and make their mark with England.
“They’ve applied themselves as a group and worked very hard individually during this camp to reach their personal bests.
“Now it’s all about coming together as a team, gelling and putting in a good performance at the weekend.”
England v USA is live on Channel 4, with coverage starting from 1.30pm.
England XV Starters
15. Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers, uncapped)
14. Joe Cokanasiga (Bath Rugby, 9 caps)
13. Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs, 38 caps)
12. Ollie Lawrence (Worcester Warriors, 6 caps)
11. Max Malins (Saracens, 7 caps)
10. Marcus Smith (Harlequins, uncapped)
9. Harry Randall (Bristol Bears, uncapped)
1. Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers, 28 caps)
2. Curtis Langdon (Sale Sharks, uncapped)
3. Joe Heyes (Leicester Tigers, uncapped)
4. Josh McNally (Bath Rugby, uncapped)
5. Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby, 21 caps)
6. Lewis Ludlow (C) (Gloucester Rugby, uncapped)
7. Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby, 22 caps)
8. Callum Chick (Newcastle Falcons, uncapped)
16. Jamie Blamire (Newcastle Falcons, uncapped)
17. Beno Obano (Bath Rugby, 1 cap)
18. Trevor Davison (Newcastle Falcons, uncapped)
19. Ted Hill (Worcester Warriors, 1 cap)
20. Ben Curry (Sale Sharks, uncapped)
21. Lewis Ludlam (Northampton Saints, 8 caps)
22. Dan Robson (Wasps, 12 caps)
23. Jacob Umaga (Wasps, uncapped)
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