Young Irish backfield up for anything Scotland hurls at them
YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — With Rob Kearney and Keith Earls out, it's as certain as taxes that Ireland's relatively novice backfield will be provoked by Scotland on Sunday.
Kearney and Earls have leg niggles that didn't allow them to be risked in the Rugby World Cup opener for both teams in Yokohama, leading to Ireland picking Jordan Larmour at fullback and Andrew Conway on the right wing.
Scotland playmakers Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg are rubbing their hands in anticipation of creating havoc.
Kearney and Earls have a defensive and positional nous from playing together for Ireland for 11 years that can't be replicated by Larmour and Conway, who have been backups for two years. Also, their understanding with left wing Jacob Stockdale is still dawning.
Larmour, smaller than Kearney, and Conway are considered safe under the high ball, but their positioning will be tested not just aerially, but by a variety of kicks: Wipers, grubbers, chips, and dinks. All with Scottish players bearing down on them.
It's a challenge Larmour, making his fifth start at fullback, is looking forward to.
"I'm sure they have a kicking game coming," Larmour told the the42.ie website. "With Bomber (Conway) and Jacob (Stockdale), we'll be chatting to each other all day.
"We think that anything they throw at us, we can solve as a team together and problem-solve together."
The threat goes both ways, too. If Russell and Hogg aren't accurate with their kicking game, then the Irish are excited to also see how their young backfield attack.
"Our preparation's been very good," said Stockdale, who has 16 tries from 21 tests. "It's a loss not to have Rob and Earlsy as they are so experienced. But Andrew Conway and Jordan Larmour have played a lot of rugby for Ireland, and I've played a fair bit of rugby with them, too. They are both exciting players to play with. They want to get onto the ball and attack, so as a winger that's very exciting."
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt was also excited.
"Andrew has proven aerial ability and that will be really useful for us," Schmidt said. "I still have the vision very clearly in my mind of Jordan Larmour beating Israel Folau to a ball in the third test in Sydney on our Australian tour last year.
"So he's very good there as well, and of course Jacob is a big man in the backfield. They're all feeding off each other. They are all very, very keen to impress."
Scotland center Sam Johnson was looking forward to impressing them, too.
"If you give (Larmour and Conway) a bit of time and space they will do a bit of damage," Johnson said. "We will look at how we want to play the game tactically and eliminate that threat."