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Rugby No 1 ranking on offer but coach would take good performance and a clean bill of health
As ‘Game of Thrones’ fans will tell you, a lot of stellar work can be undone if the finale fails to live up to the hype.
At the beginning of the final chapter of the most successful period in Irish rugby history, there are fears that Joe Schmidt’s Ireland have run out of steam.
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When they last took the field to face England, Ireland were riding the crest of a wave. Within minutes, they were dashed on the rocks and by the end of the Six Nations they had lost ground on their rivals.
Through thick and thin, the coach has stuck with his senior players in the belief that they will deliver for him when it matters most.
As he rightly said this week, the only tournament that matters in 2019 is the one coming in less than a month’s time. All of the difficult days of the spring just past will be long forgotten if Ireland get it right in Japan.
Even more than the Six Nations, these warm-up games will not linger long in the memory once the real action gets under way but right now this clash with England is very important indeed and not because a win would put Ireland on top of the world rankings.
Reaching No 1 spot for the first time in the country’s history is not to be sniffed at, but Schmidt would trade that achievement for a cohesive, impressive performance and a clean bill of health on tonight’s flight home.
Out-half, second-row and right wing aside, this is Schmidt’s first team and his belief in the players does not appear to have been shaken by their poor performances in the first half of 2019.
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The coach has rallied around a leadership group that collectively lost form in the Six Nations. The coach will live or die by his leaders.
It is time they repaid his faith with a performance that reminds everyone of why they were considered serious World Cup contenders eight months ago.
Johnny Sexton and Joey Carbery’s absence will hurt the team, James Ryan will also be missed and Robbie Henshaw would certainly add to the equation, but 16 of the 23 pl
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