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'I thought CJ was superb' - Schmidt impressed with Munster man's debut

The Ireland head coach now faces into a six-day turnaround before the clash with France.

JOE SCHMIDT TOOK encouragement from Ireland’s performance in their 16-16 draw against Wales in Dublin, but recognises the need for progress in the six-day window before round two of the Six Nations versus France.

Chief among the positives from the draw with Warren Gatland’s Welsh side was a man-of-the-match performance on debut from CJ Stander.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt was pleased with Stander's impact. Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

The Munster back row was excellent at the Aviva Stadium, racking up a huge number of carries and contributing handsomely to the defensive effort as he completed the full 80 minutes.

There were many other excellent individual performances, some of which Schmidt highlighted himself, but Stander proved to be a popular choice as man of the match.

“I thought CJ was superb,” said Schmidt post-match. “One thing I would say, I thought Tommy O’Donnell did really well and Jamie Heaslip’s engine took him all around the park on a regular basis. I thought the back three of the scrum were very, very good.

Obviously CJ making his debut, his ability to carry the ball over the advantage line. I felt he got on the ball, got some really good pressure on their ball as well and he’s certainly a guy who will grow into a position somewhere in that back row, and add to what hopefully – when everyone’s fit and available – will be a very tough conundrum for the selections.”

Wales captain Sam Warburton echoed Schmidt’s words in praising the Ireland blindside flanker, although he was not surprised by Stander’s impact.

“There was nothing I already didn’t know,” said Warburton. “He’s a very good ball carrier. I’ve seen how well he’s playing for Munster, so it didn’t surprise me that he’s involved with the Irish set-up.

“They’ve a pretty big back row and they wanted to carry ball, which they did. In the defensive line you could see him working hard around the corner, so he did play very well.”

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CJ Stander and Rhys Priestland Stander attempts to block down a Rhys Priestland kick. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

In an overall sense, Schmidt reflected on Ireland’s performance as one that he is encouraged by, even if there is naturally disappointment not to have won at home in the Six Nations.

Minus a number of leaders like Sean O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony, Ireland performed well for long periods of the contest, with Schmidt particularly pleased about the opening 30 minutes that led to a 13-0 lead.

“I feel encouraged after the performance,” said Schmidt. “As much as you’re always disappointed not to get the result at the end, the performance stood to the players really well.

The lads worked hard during the week to try and be as well prepared as they could be. There was evidence of that in the first 30 minutes…

“They had the wind, they had territory, they had possession in the second half and at the end of the game to come from 16-13 down and get those last three points, probably we feel that it’s a better result than a draw normally would be.”

Next up for Ireland is a visit to Paris after a six-day turnaround to play a French outfit who will have been boosted by the manner of their 23-21 victory against Italy, if not all of the performance involved.

Guy Novès’ side looked sharp and incisive in attack for their three tries, but were loose in defence and weak against the Italian pack at times. Nonetheless, Schmidt stated his concerns over their threats.

Simon Zebo gets past Alun Wyn Jones and Jamie Roberts Simon Zebo strides past the challenge of Jamie Roberts. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I did get a good look [at their game] and I think we can’t afford to be quite so narrow defensively against France,” said Schmidt. “You can get away with that against Wales, but it’s a real risk against the French. The width they played with was impressive at times.
“You’re just going to have to be careful whatever you do, because they’re audacious in what they’re looking to deliver at the moment and if they make it work, gee, they could run up a big score in a hurry. We have to make sure we are very clinical with the ball and not to allow them too many opportunities.”

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Murray Kinsella

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