David Corkery: Mental strength means this Ireland team won't mind being hot favourites in Italy

'The only team that will beat Ireland tomorrow are themselves...' 
David Corkery: Mental strength means this Ireland team won't mind being hot favourites in Italy

TUNED IN: Hugo Keenan keeps his eye on the ball. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

TOMORROW: Guinness Six Nations: Italy v Ireland, Stadio Olimpico, 2.15pm.

AS Irish rugby goes through a period of unprecedented success, the question of appropriate and pragmatic preparation for the upcoming World Cup in France remains a much-debated topic.

I appreciate we are still only at the mid-point in this year’s Six Nations, but what happens now and over the next few games will have a big impact on how we do in the World Cup.

Having had the honour of participating in two World Cups, and failing on both occasions to make it beyond the quarter-finals, there was a very optimistic outlook on both occasions that we were good enough to at least make it to the last four.

Maybe it was a flight of fancy that I as a young and very immature 21-year-old thought we could compete with the magnificent players that the likes of South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and England were churning out at the same rate Leinster are doing today, but no one was going to tell me otherwise.

Looking back at it now, realistically we had little chance because in essence, we were amateurs competing against seasoned professionals.

We were the brave and never say die VW Golfs competing against the Ferraris in a formula one setting and the only way we were going to succeed was if the other teams decided not to turn up.

But oh how the wheel has turned and to now see Ireland looking down on all those who laughed at us for decades brings a broad and somewhat conceited smile to my face.


I fully realise that the very same wheel that has propelled Johnny Sexton and his fellow player to the Everest of the world rankings is a mechanism that never remains static and for Ireland, the only direction they can go now is south.

However, whilst all the rest are looking at the systems that have allowed Ireland achieve such marvels, it is imperative that we take advantage of the situation and use it in a way that has our opponents on the back foot long before a ball is even kicked.

Sometimes the most challenging aspect of writing these columns is that they need to be submitted before the teams are announced albeit, it can also be advantageous because it allows you to look at different combinations and put your stamp on how you would like the team to look.

I believe that no matter what Irish team Andy Farrell decides upon naming, they will comprehensively subdue their hosts tomorrow and this is why I would look at naming a few key players that are raw in international experience, but bursting at the seems with confidence.

I don’t see much point starting the likes of Johnny Sexton, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Andrew Porter, Josh van der Flier or even Gary Ringrose in this game, fine if Farrell wants to name these players on the bench should the unlikelihood of their 448 caps of experience be required to save the day, but if Farrell is seriously going to target getting to a World Cup final, it is imperative that the lesser experienced players get as much international exposure that is humanly possible.

I would much rather see Ross Byrne or Jack Crowley be allowed the opportunity to pull the strings with the No 10 jersey on their back and have Craig Casey supplying them with a rapid supply of raw material to work with.

Look at Jamie Osborne with Stuart McCloskey or even Bundee Aki in the midfield and give Tom O’Toole a much-deserved start in the front row.

Peter O’Mahony looked tired against France, so I would completely rest him, start Jack Cronin and put Gavin Coombes on the bench.

Ireland’s Conor Murray, Craig Casey, Dave Kilcoyne, Theo and Peter O’Mahony after the French game. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Ireland’s Conor Murray, Craig Casey, Dave Kilcoyne, Theo and Peter O’Mahony after the French game. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

These are the guys that need the experience of playing in the Six Nations because as sure as night follows day, injury to influential players is something we will have to deal with and if our second string are not up to speed, Farrell and co will be leaving France with a whole pile of egg on their faces.

Tomorrow afternoon in the wonderful setting of Stadio Olimpico, situated in the even more splendid setting of the Eternal City, Ireland will take on an Italian side that is showing signs of progression but are light years away from where they need to be in terms of consistency in order to remain worthy competitors in the Six Nations.

Ever since they joined the illustrious competition back in 2000 they have only won 13 games, with England being the only side not to fall foul of their boisterous and animated way of playing.

Every year the feisty and full-blooded Italians produce at least one performance that makes the rugby world sit up and take notice, but their lack of infrastructure deprives them of the ability to harvest the next generation and without a fit-for-purpose grassroots system, you will always end up bridging gaps with substandard material.

I would love to see this Irish side get tested in a close game, but I think we will have to wait for next week for that to happen when we travel to Scotland.

The only team that will beat Ireland tomorrow are Ireland themselves. 

This squad is too polished for that to happen and while I do believe Italy will put up a brave fight, Ireland's discipline, attention to detail and most importantly their mental resilience should see them coast past the finish line.

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