New Zealand assistant coach Joe Schmidt. Photosport/John Davidson/INPHO
familiar foe

'I’m sure Joe’s influence has increased in the past 12 months'

The former Ireland boss will be plotting against his old team in Paris this week.

FOLLOWING SATURDAY’S DOMINANT performance against Scotland, Ireland are now a week out from a shot at history as Andy Farrell’s side prepare to take on New Zealand in the World Cup quarter-finals.

There’s been a sense of something special building around this team and that was evident again in Paris last night as a huge travelling Irish support once again turned out in force.

Farrell’s side have been drawing energy from the boisterous Irish support and it was striking to watch the connection between fans and players again at the Stade de France. Ireland’s six tries had the crowd on their feet but they weren’t the only moments which sparked a reaction – key defensive plays in the first half were followed by players pumping their fists and celebrating towards the waves of green jerseys in the stands.

After the game, Andy Farrell described the 18-phase defensive set in the first half as “a sickening blow” for Scotland and this morning, defence coach Simon Easterby discussed the energy the Ireland players draw from the moments.

“It’s been said before but I think this team understands how important the defence is to the overall success of the team,” Easterby said.

“We work incredibly hard on being disciplined and not giving sides any access, and credit to the players, the way they go about their business and like you say, you can sense the feeling of excitement when the opposition have the ball, it’s a chance for us to put a stop to their attack and take a bit of energy away from them as well.

“I think we saw that certainly in the first half when they had long periods of possession, our discipline was good and they didn’t get a huge amount of gainline against us. But that’s part and parcel of the game, players understand the value of defence, what it gives us as a team but also what it gives our attack then on the back of it.”

Leading the charge was Caelan Doris, who led the stats with 22 tackles, 12 carries, one key turnover and counter-ruck which forced a Scotland knock-on.

“Caelan was brilliant again, as he’s been for the last couple of years really. He’s really grown and matured and for those guys around him as well, I think it was a real collective effort last night in the way we attacked, the way we defended.

caelan-doris-comes-up-against-zander-fagerson Ireland's Caelan Doris and Scotland's Zander Fagerson. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“So yeah, he’s been excellent but you can only be as good as those guys around you as well and I think the support and collectiveness of the group allows players like Caelan to play the way he does.”

Next up it’s New Zealand. While Ireland have enjoyed a strong recent record against the All Blacks – winning four of their last six meetings – memories of their 2019 quarter-final meeting still linger, when Ireland shipped 46 points on a harrowing night in Tokyo.

“There are new guys who have come in (since 2019) but we’ve experienced so much across the last four years,” Easterby continued.

“Those guys who played in 2019 will undoubtedly have gained experience, understanding around different parts of the game, how to approach games, how to adapt during games. “But also the fresh blood that has come in after 2019 has had unbelievable experiences over the last couple of years.

“I guess part of what Faz wanted to do was stress the players over the last couple of years, put them in those situations, so they’ve got that experience, that bank of understanding to draw from when it comes to these games and there’s no bigger than playing New Zealand in a quarter-final.

“We’ve been there before, four years ago, we were well beaten on that day. But there’s lots of good learnings from 2019, even though it’s a different coaching group, a different team, there’s lots of similarities to their team and ours and the experiences across the last four years and that game will undoubtedly be the important factor in the game on Saturday.”

There’s a different coaching team on the All Blacks’ side too, of course, with former Ireland boss Joe Schmidt plotting against his old team this week. Schmidt joined Ian Foster’s set-up as a selector ahead of Ireland’s three Test tour to New Zealand last summer and has since stepped up to a more influential assistant coach role.

I’m sure Joe’s influence certainly has increased in the past 12 months but we’ve got to be excited about playing the standard bearers of the World Cup.

“New Zealand have always turned up for World Cups and we’ve seen the way they’ve dealt with a little bit of adversity in the pre-season game against South Africa and then the game against France could have gone either way to be honest, and they’ve built nicely in the last few weeks in terms of their performances and the way they want to play.

“Certainly Joe will know plenty about what we’re about, the individuals within our group, but we’ll have an insight as well into what they might try and do as well.

“So I think it’s finely balanced and it’s an interesting sub-plot to the game itself.”

The two camps know each other well, but Easterby added there won’t be any time for a catch-up over coffee in Paris this week.

“I don’t think I’ll be making contact, but I guess it’s one of those things, you spend a lot of time with people over a period of time, but this week we’ll be focusing on ourselves and making do what we can do. We’ll catch up with Joe and Feeky [Greg Feek] and the rest of their coaching group after the game.” 

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