Joe schmidt will be expected to hit the ground running against Samoa and will call on many of the squad’s senior players to make a winning start this weekend.
The Ireland coach has set a clear agenda in his opening press briefings — three higher ranked countries are coming to town and three strong Irish teams will be sent out to face them. Schmidt’s mantra: We have three cup finals coming up. To that end, expect to see Jonny Sexton making his 13th, 14th and 15th appearances, of an already bruising season, in the coming weeks.
The Kiwi will be relieved and miffed in equal measure as Sexton returned to Ireland last night having flown back and forth to Paris only to occupy the Racing Métro bench in a weekend defeat to Biarritz. Sexton, Schmidt said last week, was flat. Team manager Mick Kearney, today, described some tightness.
Kearney played down comments from the Racing camp that Sexton was an unused sub due to taking a training knock he picked up last week in Ireland camp. Kearney said, “He’s fine, he’s fine. He did some kicking practice with Dave Aldred last Wednesday — he had a slight bit of tightness but nothing at all that will keep in out of training this week. He’s good to go.” Kearney added:
Jonny came in last night and Joe asked him how he was. Jonny asked Joe what the opposite to ‘flat’ was. He was quite bubbly. He’s certainly under consideration for this week.”
The outhalf will be keen to play against the Samoans and may be one of a core of players Schmidt starts to meet the visitors head-on. Paul O’Connell, Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy are all set to train fully tomorrow and both Mike Ross and Rory Best ran drills with their teammates this morning. Expect three of those five to feature in some capacity on Saturday.
Schmidt, Kearney revealed, may tell his players the starting XV tomorrow but Irish fans must wait until Thursday to find out who will face Samoa.
The former Leinster coach is not normally one for showing his hand but it would be tempting to read into Eoin Reddan’s presence at this afternoon’s briefing in Carton House.
Reddan is behind Isaac Boss in the Leinster pecking order this season but has worked fantastically well with Sexton in the past, at provincial and international level. The scrumhalf revealed that Sexton’s brief time in the Top 14 has not had a mellowing effect.
“It’s been good; training has been similar. It’s still cranky, at times, as ever between us,” Reddan remarked. “Jonny is quite used to how Joe runs things so he has fitted back in quite well.”