THERE ARE WILL be more than a few frustrations for Joe Schmidt over the coming weeks.
The Ireland head coach and his staff will conduct their usual thorough review of the Six Nations, in which they finished second, and the misses will come flooding back.
The opening 30 minutes in Edinburgh, the penalty against Ireland’s maul in Cardiff, the poorly-executed chances to attack space out wide, the sloppy ruck hits, the late lineout lifts, the moments of weak body fight post-tackle.
Schmidt will narrow down to the most minute details in his bid to find out how Ireland can be better, although he will try to remind himself of the positives too – with Saturday’s stirring 13-9 victory over England chief among them.
“There is a degree of frustration, and a fair element of pride, but I think no matter what happened it was always going to be a very, very tight championship and if the championship had been on the line today, it would have been fantastic,” said Schmidt after the win over the English.
“At the same time, with the bonus point that England got last week, even if we won, we would have had to beat them with a bonus point.
So, it was always going to be difficult to get to that level. Those frustrations will continue in the overall review of the championship and at the same time, it is incredibly positive to finish on a note like that because that was a monumental challenge tonight.”
For all the faults and errors the notoriously rigorous Schmidt will have picked out in Ireland’s five games, he was keen to stress some of those positives again on Saturday night – including the width and variety in Ireland’s attacking play.
Schmidt is pleased with much of Ireland’s approach but now faces into perhaps his greatest frustration as national team coach – losing his players until the June tour of the US and Japan.
While there may be brief camps and meetings with players interspersed over the coming months, Schmidt will have to wait until the tour for his next prolonged stint with his playing squad.
But with Ireland set to face the US Eagles in New Jersey and then play Japan in two Tests – at the same time as some of their frontliners will be with the Lions – there is excitement for Schmidt and his staff even now.
“The coaches, we are really excited about the tour,” said Schmidt. “South Arica was incredibly important to where we are now. I think it is probably overlooked by a lot of the people now.
“I think if you look at some of the people who toured in South Africa, they are incredibly important to us now. Paddy Jackson, for example – that is where he really got his playing rhythm back in the national side in starting teams.
I think from there we have also had a few guys come in in November and a few guys come in in the championship. Niall Scannell has been unbelievably good and again Niall is a guy who the morning of a Test match gets told [he would be making his debut].
“You know, you look forward to seeing those guys step up but, as I always say, it is never linear, it never just moves upwards.
“One of the frustrations that I didn’t used to experience coaching week-to-week with club or provinces is that I don’t see the players for another two/three months and we all get together and we inevitably start from scratch. But it is a different challenge.”
While the Lions tour will understandably draw some attention away from Ireland’s efforts in June, it should be a fascinating tour, particularly given the aforementioned possibility of seeing new players emerge.
Andrew Conway’s debut against England means Schmidt has now given 20 players their first Ireland caps since the 2015 World Cup.
While progress has been made in that regard, a second-placed finish in the Six Nations doesn’t feel good enough for this Ireland group. The demands for success only increase with each season, but then Schmidt has the lofty expectations of himself.
“I get more demanding of myself and the coaches get more demanding of themselves because we’re just trying to help the players be as good as they can be,” said Schmidt. “So we live with our own expectations.”
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