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Henderson set for 'few weeks' sidelined as Schmidt signals intent in Cardiff

The Kiwi hopes the fine margins and crucial decision go his team’s way in his last Six nations match.

Sexton and Schmidt at training this afternoon.
Sexton and Schmidt at training this afternoon.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

IRELAND HEAD COACH Joe Schmidt promised Ireland will go ‘to play’ in Cardiff as he seeks his first Six Nations success at the Principality Stadium at the final attempt.

Warren Gatland’s side lead the chase for the Six Nations Championship and can complete a Grand Slam if they claim a 14th straight Test win by beating Ireland on Saturday (kick-off 14.45).

However, Schmidt signalled that Ireland won’t be overawed in Cardiff.

“We’re going there to play because you can’t afford to go into your shell,” said the Kiwi.

“They will have a similar attitude and play a territorial game, which is how they have managed the Six Nations so far. We will have to work our way out of our own half more often than not.”

Ireland’s team-sheet for the encounter shows three changes from the starting line-up for the comfortable win over France last Sunday. The biggest tweak comes in the second row, where Tadhg Beirne will win his Six Nations debut in place of Iain Henderson.

The Ulster lock, Schmidt says, only realised he had sprained his knee on Sunday evening when the squad had returned back to their hotel. He is unsure if Henderson will be back fit in time for the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster, but was hopeful that it would keep him sidelined for just ‘a few weeks’.

Iain Henderson celebrates winning with their daughter Lana Henderson, pictured with his daughter Lana, didn't feel the effects of the injury until well after the win over France. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Dan Leavy is also in line to make that fixture after training this week. Jack Carty retains his place among the replacements, but Schmidt insisted that Joey Carbery was ‘very close’ to being back in contention.

“The plan was definitely for him to train this week. He was incredibly close, but he didn’t quite make the deadline and tick all the boxes or get the running volume that he needed to get through a game.

“We can’t afford to take risks with somebody, but most people appreciate how well Jack Carty has slotted in and controlled the back end of the last game well.”

Schmidt will hope that the Roscommon man will see his third international cap come, as his first two have, with Ireland in a winning position approaching full-time. Cardiff, though, has been far from a happy hunting ground for Schmidt and he has yet to beat the hosts in a Six Nations match there.

The defeats (23-16 in 2015 and 22-9 in 2017)  still carried a sting when they were brought up today ahead of his third go at in-competition Gatland.

Conor Murray leaves the field with an injury Conor Murray was replaced in the second half of the 2017 encounter after suffering an injury in the first-half. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“They’re different teams, different times and, in both, there were incredibly fine margins,” says the outgoing head coach.

“We played both times relatively well and we certainly had more line breaks and opportunities, but they are very hard to capitalise on. They are incredibly good at slowing your ball down once you get into their danger zone.

Scotland had a plethora of opportunities last week and only scored one try. We scored five against them last year but it’s very hard to score against them, especially at home. They do grow another leg at the Principality Stadium and it’s going to be a challenge for us.

“If you look at how fine the margins were: we were down by six points (in 2017 loss), the line-out maul looked like it’s going over anyway, Robbie Henshaw joins it in front of the ball (and) Wayne Barnes correctly penalises him – although I haven’t seen a call like that made again since.

“Suddenly what could have been a one-point lead with the pressure on them, remained a six-point lead and them being able to clear their lines.

“It’s those fine margins, if you can get as many of them to fall in your favour. How do you do that? Just try to be as accurate as you can be.”

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Sean Farrell

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