Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
IRELAND HEAD COACH Joe Schmidt has hit out at critics of his team’s style of play when asked if he will adopt a similar route-one, direct runner approach against Scotland at the Aviva Stadium this Saturday.
The relentless, possession-orientated game, designed to wear opponents down and expose their weaknesses, has been successful for Ireland over the last 18 months and Schmidt’s side go into this weekend seeking a record 11th straight Test victory.
In the opening three rounds of this year’s Six Nations, Ireland have controlled territory and possession for large periods while displaying a clinical edge to record wins over France, Italy and Wales.
When asked if we can expect more of the same from the hosts against Scotland in Dublin on Saturday, Schmidt said: ”It’s ironic you say that, because I’d probably challenge people to do a little bit more homework and probably not follow the lead of someone who, statistically, doesn’t balance up with what’s said.
“I think there was some really good tight play and some stuff that went through the middle, but there was some stuff down the edges as well.
“Keith Earls’ line break, Johnny’s line break, Jacob Stockdale’s try in the corner. Certainly that wasn’t a one-pass play, it’s still one of the best passes you’d see in world rugby.
“We’ve got to keep that variety to our game. At this stage we’ve probably made the third most offloads. It’s an area where people would love to beat us with a stick, and it’s probably overlooked by people that there is some continuity to our play.
“Those sorts of things should allow us the variety to try to keep a sort of balance in what we’re doing to attack them. And then obviously defensively we’re going to have to link up very well.”
As Ireland face into another stern test of their Grand Slam credentials against Gregor Townsend’s flying Scots, much of the focus has been on tightening up the defence to nullify the threat the visitors carry.
Scotland are coming off the back of their impressive win over England last time out and although they’ve lost 16 of their last 18 away games in the championship, there is a real sense of trepidation from an Irish point of view heading into Saturday.
“Once you do allow them time and space they are incredibly dangerous,” Schmidt continued. “We know who and how they managed to do what they do. They transfer the ball really well through the midfield.
Source: Bryan Keane
“A lot of people will focus on Finn Russell, but I think Peter Horne is a really good distributor. Their ability to transfer the ball is very good. And then when you get it to the edges with the likes of [Stuart] Hogg chiming in, he is such a threat.
“It’s kind of a Super Rugby style that they play, so that makes them very potent on the counter-attack, very potent attacking from loose ball, and dangerous in the wide channels.
“Especially when you get the likes of [John] Barclay and [Stuart] McInally operating through the wide channels.”
The work of Scotland’s back row unit, led by Barclay, in disrupting English ball and ensuring quick possession for their own side was central to their famous Calcutta Cup win at Murrayfield a fortnight ago, but Schmidt knows there’s more to them than that.
“To a degree, but there’s a lot more to Scotland than that,” the Kiwi replied, when asked if it will come down to stopping Barclay.
“I don’t think John Barclay got too many balls off us last year, but that didn’t stop us being 21-8 down at half-time. There’s a fair bit more to it than that.
“Hamish Watson is another real threat over the ball as well and either of their hookers are very good over the ball as well.
“It would be too simplistic to say stop John Barclay and that will have a major impact, but it’s always a part of the equation because he’s a super player.”
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