Ireland v Georgia
Schmidt shuffles hand on hunt for depth
Will Macpherson
November 14, 2014
Gordon D'Arcy returns at inside centre, without his old mate Brian O'Driscoll © Getty Images
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Ireland are riding the crest of a wave in 2014. They've won the Six Nations, they've nabbed their first ever wins in Argentina and, best of the lot, they notched a superb victory over South Africa in Dublin last weekend. All that despite a raft of injuries to key players and with their opponents coming in off their triumph over the All Blacks.

This week Ireland's autumn international schedule takes a World Cup Pool stage-esque tangent with the visit of Georgia. One week they're beating the world's no.2 team, the next they're up against no.15. With 13 changes to the starting line-up, Schmidt is testing the depth of his squad, dishing out debuts and blooding new talent a year out from the game's showpiece event.

But it is matches like these that are so crucial at World Cup time. Ireland know this after their close shave, skin of the teeth, 14-10 win over the Georgians in 2007. This time, after Georgia, Ireland welcome Australia to the Aviva. Momentum needs to be retained and new combinations secured. Seeing off lower-ranked opposition in style - even if their own cast is almost completely different - provides the platform for the sterner tests that await. The side he's selected should still have the required quality to see off their physical opponents and this clash should provide good preparation for Ireland's Group D clash against Romania next year.

Team news

  • Ireland: Joe Schmidt has rung the changes after the landmark victory over South Africa. In come Eoin Reddan as captain and the supremely talented Ian Madigan at fly-half and Gordon D'Arcy and Darren Cave in the centres. Simon Zebo remains and Felix Jones and Craig Gilroy join him to complete the back three. Up front, Mike Ross is the only survivor and is joined by Dave Kilcoyne and Richardt Strauss in the front row. Mike McCarthy and Dave Foley are at lock and Dominic Ryan, Tommy O'Donnell and Chris Diack are in the back row. Foley and Ryan debut.
  • Georgia: Star Toulon back row Mamuka Gorgodze is missing through injury but the Georgians still have a mighty tough looking pack. Regular captain Irakli Machkhaneli is absent with a shoulder injury sustained against Tonga last weekend so outside-centre David Kacharava leads the side. Lock Dimitri Basilaia has recovered from a fist injury and starts, while young back Muraz Giorgadze waits on the bench for his first appearance.

Even if it is largely a second-string side, Schmidt's team can be expected to play attacking, inventive rugby. They've two new caps and seven more starters with less than ten caps, but they're not simply a band of greenhorns. 56-cap Eoin Reddan captains the side for the first time and Gordon D'Arcy and all of 79 caps worth of wisdom returns in the centre - even without his old mate Brian O'Driscoll - to provide experience. Mike McCarthy is a seasoned campaigner in the second row and Mike Ross will provide the nous to counter a strong Georgian scrum.

Ian Madigan is handed the chance to orchestrate affairs from fly-half and cement his status as Jonny Sexton's understudy. Men-in-waiting like Craig Gilroy and Felix Jones have a chance to showcase their hunger and desire.

Georgia lost to Samoa in Tbilisi last weekend but will be no pushover for the Irish. Ireland were very nearly burnt by Georgia at the 2007 World Cup - where they failed to make it out of the group - and those scars will have lingered: the two sides haven't met since. This'll be typical Georgian fare: feisty, physical forwards, tempers flaring and a scrum that is solid as a rock. The Irishmen who beat the Springboks will have hurt last Sunday morning. One suspects this batch could be in for a world of pain come Monday, too.

Ian Madigan makes a run, Leinster v Glasgow Warriors, RaboDirect PRO12, Aviva Stadium, May 31, 2014
Leinster's Ian Madigan starts at fly-half © Getty Images
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In form:

For the Irish, there's plenty to prove. Dave Kilcoyne will be keen to replicate his fine Munster form on the international stage and put some pressure on Jack McGrath and the injured Cian Healy for the no.1 jersey. Gordon D'Arcy needs to reassert his case to be part of Ireland's premier centre pairing after solid outings for Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne last weekend, while Ian Madigan will be looking to force his way into Schmidt's first-choice team That he has the talent and the form isn't in doubt, whether he can be accommodated alongside the likes of Sexton, D'Arcy and Kearney is.

Out of form:

Craig Gilroy has slipped down the pecking order a little and has plenty to prove. Back three tends to be a position spared in World Cup squads (expect Ireland to take three wings, two full-backs and a couple of utilities like Payne and Madigan next year) and Gilroy won't have many opportunities to stake a claim. If everyone's fit, Tommy Bowe is a certainty, Zebo and Andrew Trimble probable and Dave Kearney and Gilroy possible. Now's the time to shine. The same goes for the back row, who have just six caps between them.

Key Battle:

The Georgians are known for their work in the front row and Mike Ross and co could be in for a torrid time if the visitors hit their straps. Kilcoyne will have his work cut out keeping Toulon tighthead Davit Kubriashvili at bay. The man's a severe threat to Ireland's platform. Ross's presence on the other side of the scrum will provide some support but it's best not to underestimate Kubriashvili's colleagues Shalva Mamukashvili and Mikheil Nariashvili either.

Stats:

  • Some of the stats from Ireland's victory over South Africa are staggering. They made do with 43% possession, 38% territory and they had to make 64 more tackles than their opponents.
  • Ireland have won the three previous fixtures between the sides by an average of 41 points, including that four-point scrape in Bordeaux in 2007.

Odds:

You can get a Georgia victory at the long odds of 25/1 with Unibet, while Ireland to win by more than 13 points is 50/1 on.

Verdict:

Ireland by 35

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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