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Schmidt's attention turns to halting England's Grand Slam bid after Cardiff defeat

‘I really feel we were incredibly close and I know 22-9 does not look like that.’

WITH THEIR CHAMPIONSHIP hopes evaporating in the boozy and brilliant atmosphere inside Principality Stadium on Friday night, Ireland’s focus now moves on to throwing a spanner in the wheels of England’s impressive chariot.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt before Friday night's game in Cardiff. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Eddie Jones and his men will come to Dublin on Saturday seeking to secure a second Grand Slam in two years and also their 19th consecutive win, which would be a new record for a Tier 1 nation.

Joe Schmidt and his Irish team are fighting for pride following the defeat against Wales, and it would be a huge surprise not to see a passionate response to that failure against the English.

“I think England are getting stronger as the tournament goes on,” said Schmidt on Friday night after Ireland’s 22-9 loss, and England’s 61-21 win over Scotland last weekend certainly backs up that assertion.

The Ireland boss believes that the quality of England’s bench has been a major factor in their success, and his words provide some contrast to Schmidt’s own belated use of several of Ireland’s replacements in Wales.

“To have a bench that includes Mako Vunipola, Billy Vunipola and some of the other guys who have come off the bench, like the power that Ben Te’o is bringing off the bench for them,” said Schmidt, referencing how England’s bench for Saturday’s impressive win over the Scots.

“Danny Care is a massively experienced player with all the caps he has got, plus he gives you speed with the sniping around the breakdown.

“You cannot win a Six Nations with 15 players. And that is where England have really proved their worth. The last 20 minutes here, Wales led up to the 73rd, 74th minute against England. That is how tough they are.

Joe Schmidt talks to the backs Schmidt speaks to his players at the Principality Stadium. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“You talk about how many games they have won in a row. That is how extended they are. At home to France, they won in the last 10 minutes really. That is the challenge for us.

“We are going to need 23 really fit guys. It is going to take at least 48 hours to see who has bounced back and who is really fit. We will see how they run on Monday and Tuesday to see what decisions we will make on Thursday.”

One man who is highly unlikely to be involved for Ireland is Tommy Bowe, who had an x-ray on a suspected fractured ankle on Friday night.

Ireland’s medical update today will also include word on the status of Conor Murray, who was left on the pitch on Friday night despite appearing to have one working arm, before eventually making way for Kieran Marmion in the second half.

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The replacement of CJ Stander in the second half was “tactical,” according to Schmidt, so he is expected to have a full deck to choose from, aside from the two aforementioned concerns.

While there will be much lingering disappointment in the Irish camp early this week, Schmidt believes his players are very near delivering the kind of result that eluded them in Wales.

“I really feel we were incredibly close and I know 22-9 does not look like that,” said Schmidt. “But 15-9 with us going over the line, and us having a five-metre scrum, it is incredibly close and I think a lot of times, it is – professional sport, international rugby.

Joe Schmidt and Jonathan Sexton Schmidt with Johnny Sexton in Cardiff. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“You are assessed on your result, not necessarily your performance. But I do think when people look back through that, they will see some really strong elements of performance, and that includes both sides of the ball.

“The pressure we put on early… While we conceded three tries, one of them was a charge down, one was when we were a player short in the sin bin and the other was when we had to make a change because of a head injury assessment.

“And at the same time, on the other side of the ball, we got incredibly close. To bounce back from that is difficult, but I know that this group of players are incredibly good to work with, are incredibly resilient and I think they have demonstrated that before.

“They showed it during the game against Australia and I think they have a fantastic chance this coming week to demonstrate that from week to week and get something out of the championship, because I just think there are so many really good teams involved and if we can finish in the top half, I don’t think all is lost as a result.

“So we have to chase that result.”

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