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Dublin: 0 °C Sunday 24 February, 2019

'I'm still bleeding from that game in 2013... Chicago was a full bandage'

Joe Schmidt and Ireland turn their attention to the All Blacks after overcoming Argentina.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, this is nearly the moment you’ve all been waiting for…

Ireland gave Argentina the respect they deserved in preparing well for yesterday’s 28-17 win, having done the same before dispatching Italy in Chicago, but next weekend is the main event of this November Test series.

The All Blacks travel to Dublin today after their narrow 16-15 win over England at Twickenham yesterday and, finally, the build-up to a clash between the world’s two top-ranked teams can begin in earnest.

Luke McGrath celebrate scoring a try with Bundee Aki, Peter O'Mahony and Dan Leavy Ireland celebrate last night's win over Argentina. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Joe Schmidt has been keeping his players’ eyes on the jobs directly in front of them up until this point but we can be certain that the Ireland head coach has spent long hours plotting how to beat All Blacks for the second time.

His record against his native New Zealand reads ‘played three, won one, lost two’ so far.

The first experience of his Ireland team taking on the All Blacks in 2013 was unforgettably hurtful before 2016 in Chicago proved to be a history-making trip.

The return clash with the Kiwis two years ago in Dublin was a brutal affair, as physical a Test match as has taken place at the Aviva Stadium and one Ireland emerged on the wrong side of.

As he finally allows himself to look towards facing the Kiwis in public, Schmidt insists his Ireland players are the ones that count.

“It’s got so little to do with me,” said Schmidt when asked if facing the All Blacks is his greatest coaching challenge.

“I step back on a Thursday and it’s really player-driven. I’d be delighted if we could be as competitive as we were the last three times we played them.

“The one in 2013, I’m still bleeding from that. It hurts when that happens. While Chicago was a great band-aid, in fact it was a full bandage, it was great, but two weeks later we were very, very much in the game and it was very, very tough.

“As physical as it was tonight [against Argentina], it was a step up last time the All Blacks were in town. The challenge for our guys is to step up and I’m confident that they can. At the same time, I’m well aware of the challenge the All Blacks present.”

TJ Perenara leads the haka The All Blacks perform the haka before beating England yesterday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Speaking in the wake of his team’s victory over Argentina last night, Schmidt pointed out that Ireland have plenty to work on his week if they are to challenge the All Blacks – an ideal situation for a coach like him.

Schmidt will “get the microscope out” in analysing the performance in a three-try win against the Pumas but it’s likely that some of his selection decisions have been simplified.

Rob Kearney is due back in full training tomorrow and his experience looks like being crucial against the All Blacks, particularly after Jordan Larmour showed he’s still learning in the 15 shirt last night.

Ireland, usually so dominant in the air, struggled against Argentina’s kicking game at times.

“It was just untidy,” said Schmidt. “A few times, if you have a look at the replays, they’re not particularly going up to win it either. The one that scrambles around on our goalline, [Emiliano] Boffelli goes up waving one hand at it. It would be pretty hard to catch it like that.

“The superb one he took going forward where he was up high with two hands was another story. If someone is coming up high and getting that hand up, it is very hard for Jordan to win that clean.

“Jacob Stockdale took a super one towards the end and hopefully that’s given him a bit of confidence to really get up and dominate that aerial battle. We’ll have a look back at that and try to analyse how and why we didn’t quite get into the air as we’d have liked and won those battles.”

Schmidt noted how England had targeted All Blacks fullback Damian McKenzie in their game and “got a lot of ball back” as a result.

It would, therefore, be a big surprise if Ben Smith doesn’t slot into 15 for the Kiwis next weekend in Dublin, with an intriguing aerial contest ahead. 

Joe Schmidt Schmidt has some big selection decisions to make. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Devin Toner appeared to be missed in the second row as Ireland’s lineout struggled at times yesterday, a particular worry after Brodie Retallick led the All Blacks’ successful assault on the English lineout in London.

Argentina’s selection of lock Guido Petti at blindside flanker proved to be an intelligent move as he attacked the tail of Ireland’s lineout.

“When we saw their team, they picked three second rows and we felt they were going to target that,” said Ireland captain and hooker Rory Best.

“They were moving around and guessing a wee bit and when a team does that, sometimes with your process they guess right.

“There was a few that they guessed. We’d be disappointed with that but having said that we got ourselves back together again and won a few scrappily. Sometimes you just have to get the ball back.

“I think we’ll be better for tonight, just a little bit of that cohesion in the lineout.”

Among the major positives for Ireland collectively was the performance of their scrum, the platform for all three of their tries.

Cian Healy, Best and Tadhg Furlong took full advantage of Argentina missing several frontline props and even won a scrum against the head before Ireland’s second try through Bundee Aki.

Schmidt is hopeful that scrum coach Greg Feek and his charges can work towards Ireland’s scrum being similarly impressive against the Kiwis. 

Tadhg Furlong dejected after conceding a try It was a good evening for Tadhg Furlong and the Ireland scrum. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“You’d love it to be, for sure, because when the All Blacks play off really solid platforms they play those really flat passes off Aaron Smith or TJ Perenara, they’re very hard to stop getting over the advantage line,” said Schmidt.

“Once they get that momentum, they’re very hard to stop in behind. Any pressure we can get at the scrum would be great. We had some great scrums against them the last time they played here.”

Schmidt is hopeful that Robbie Henshaw will overcome a hamstring concern to be available, while Garry Ringrose is expected back in full training tomorrow.

Kieran Marmion is another slight injury concern after rolling his ankle and with Schmidt admitting that Conor Murray is “highly unlikely” to play against the All Blacks, it will likely be up to Marmion or Luke McGrath to steer the ship from the number nine shirt.

“Conor has that incredible capacity to exit well, give us the tempo and width of pass that makes him a world-class player,” said Schmidt.

The other guys are building towards that and the best way to build towards it is to get put under pressure in the cauldron of Test match footy and survive.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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