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David Wallace: Fierce competition for places is inspiring Ireland to hit new heights

02 Oct | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
David Wallace: Fierce competition for places is inspiring Ireland to hit new heights

The Betway ambassador believes impressive performances of Ireland's fringe players are forcing Joe Schmidt to reconsider first team plans

As the intensity of the tournament increases week by week, the strength in depth in Ireland’s squad really seems to be helping them to find an extra gear.

After making so many changes off the back of a comfortable win against Canada you could be forgiven for thinking that Ireland might take their foot off the pedal a little bit against Romania.

But with no room for complacency, every single player is being forced to up their game.

Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Devin Toner, Chris Henry – everywhere you look there are guys all around the park that are really putting their hand up and forcing those watching in the stands to up the ante when they get their chance.

Nowhere is this competition as fierce as in the back three.

The weaker teams really do struggle in defending out wide after a few phases and in both games so far Ireland have been very effective in targeting that space by using long passes and loop plays to get their strike runners involved.

It was great to see the likes of Tommy Bowe bring himself back into contention on Sunday with some excellent finishing, Keith Earls was also outstanding and Simon Zebo reminded us all of exactly what he can do.

Coming up against stronger sides later in the tournament we will no doubt have to bring teams through the phases a little bit more.

Yet the two games so far have been a real shot in the arm for the confidence of the Irish backline who look to be more than capable of taking any chances that come their way.kearney-zeboBefore the tournament you would have said that Dave Kearney was a shoo-in for a starting spot because he has been playing so well, but now I am not so sure.

Perhaps this is my Munster-Leinster allegiance revealing itself, but after their performances against Romania I would like to see Simon Zebo on the pitch and believe that you have to find a position for Keith Earls.

The competition is definitely hotting up with Robbie Henshaw also hopefully coming back into the picture soon.

Physically he is a very big guy who can add a different element in both attack and defence to anybody else, so he will be afforded every opportunity to reclaim that berth in the centre.

I must say that I have found some of the recent criticism of his midfield colleague Jared Payne very harsh, as for me he has been doing a stellar job and is one of the most underrated players in the squad.

With Henshaw missing, Payne has been the guy to make those hard carries in the middle of the pitch and give the team the team a platform with some good go-forward ball.

He has been an absolute workhorse in attack, very solid in defence and he has linked very well with every partner that he has had in the centre – of which there have been a fair few.

It is easy to forget just how difficult it is to fill the boots of somebody like Brian O’Driscoll.

I played with guys like him and Paul O’Connell, and players of that calibre really do give you that bit of extra confidence that can help give everybody a lift.

That is the situation that Ireland face this weekend, with Sergio Parisse looking set to return for Italy.parisse-italyHe brings a double effect – not just with his ability and skillset on the park but also with the talismanic presence that the rest of the Italian players feed off.

He has also been their go-to guy and spiritual leader for a long time, so I predict a very different Italy team to the one that we have seen so far as this World Cup.

The Azzurri are always ultra-physical and often seem to raise their game against the bigger sides.

Ireland will need to keep their patience but I think that Joe Schmidt has a good game plan to break them down which should pay dividends towards the end of the game.

It would be foolhardy to go into a match like this thinking about bonus points.

If it gets to a stage in the game where one is up for grabs then they may go for it but from Ireland’s point of view it is all about getting the win.

The beauty of them playing every Sunday is that they have got that bit of extra time to recover in between matches.

We have been very fortunate so far to have virtually a clean bill of health so Schmidt will now be starting to think about putting together his first-choice team – although the level of competition is so fierce that it is very much subject to change.

Everybody seems to be peaking at the perfect time, and at the moment the graph is certainly heading in the right direction going into the more difficult challenges.

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