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Ireland look to show 'we haven’t gone away' as Schmidt calls for abrasive edge

A big win in Rome would help Ireland to build more momentum.

JOE SCHMIDT HAS sent a simple message to his Ireland team:

Don’t let yourselves get pushed around.

Ireland are the best-disciplined team in Test rugby and Schmidt will remain focused on his players keeping the penalty count low, but he wants his team to fight fire with fire of the legal variety.

Joe Schmidt Joe Schmidt wants to see an abrasive edge from Ireland. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

We can be certain that no one has spent more time analysing Ireland’s defeat to England in the opening round of this Six Nations than Schmidt and his reviews have underlined to him that Ireland were not far off.

As they face into a clash with Italy tomorrow in Rome, showing four changes to their starting team, Schmidt is asking for three things in particular:

“Continuity, cohesion, and an abrasive edge.”

The Ireland head coach was pleased with the improvement Ireland showed in the third of those departments against Scotland in round two, but the defeat to England still rankles.

Schmidt put his hand up when recounting that Ireland had lacked something physically, suggesting that his team could have benefited from more contact in training the week of the England game.

“We normally present a real physical challenge to our opponents,” said Schmidt yesterday. “We can reflect on the England game and we weren’t quite where we needed to be. I’d be the first to admit that and take a degree of responsibility in that.

Dave Kilcoyne and Ultan Dillane Dave Kilcoyne and Ultan Dillane start for Ireland in Italy. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“Because you take for granted that that’s where you’re going to be, up and at them, and maybe we needed to do just a little bit more contact in that period.

“On the back of Europe [the Champions Cup], you tend to look after them a little bit because they’ve had a fair bit of contact and then maybe we should have just spiked a little bit of contact during the week, just to get them up and ready for what was a really physical challenge.

“We probably should have responded when there was a few off-the-ball incidents. We should have responded with, certainly not with indiscipline because that’s not us, but to be a bit more abrasive within the laws of the game because that’s what we feel we can deliver and that would be something I’d love to see on Sunday.”

Schmidt did, of course, stress the importance of Ireland staying on the right side of the laws with their defensive linespeed, tackle technique and ruck work. 

His desire for cohesion is an important factor in Rome, particularly up front as Dave Kilcoyne comes in at loosehead while Cian Healy puts his feet up for the weekend, Sean Cronin gets his first ever Six Nations start, Ultan Dillane gets a shot in the second row as James Ryan is rested, and Jordi Murphy slots in at number eight after an abdominal injury for Jack Conan.

With Rory Best another to sit this game out, Peter O’Mahony gets another opportunity to captain the team, while his Munster team-mate Chris Farrell continues at outside centre with Garry Ringrose sidelined and Ireland giving Robbie Henshaw more time to recover from injury.

Paul Dean with Jason Sherlock Dublin football selector Jason Sherlock with Ireland team manager Paul Deane yesterday. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Jordan Larmour’s finger injury prevented him from possibly coming into what has transpired to be an unchanged backline, while Schmidt resisted the temptation to start Andrew Conway and instead picked him on the bench.

Having got back to winning ways in Scotland two weekends ago, Schmidt is hoping strong performances against Italy, France and Wales in their remaining three games underline exactly what Ireland are all about.

“As much as I felt England thoroughly deserved to win, I’m not sure, in the aftermath there was quite the space of difference between the teams that was written up,” said Schmidt.

“I guess the only way we can demonstrate that is maybe the next time we play England or maybe in these next three games we can demonstrate that, hey, we haven’t gone away, we’re still very capable of getting into games and delivering that cohesion, that collective continuity and that level of abrasion you need within the laws.”

Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey look ahead to Ireland’s Six Nations meeting with Italy and discuss the week’s biggest stories in the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly.

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