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Schmidt stays grounded as potential Six Nations decider against England looms

The Ireland head coach and Paul O’Connell warned of the quality of Stuart Lancaster’s team.

ANOTHER WIN TO add to his record as Ireland head coach, but Joe Schmidt won’t be changing anything about his mindset as England loom large on the Six Nations horizon.

Paul O'Connell celebrates with Sean O'Brien and Conor Murray after the game Paul O'Connell, Sean O'Brien and Conor Murray celebrate last night's win. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Having seen off France with a 18-11 win that left captain Paul O’Connell frustrated, Ireland’s players will swiftly turn their attention to the visit of Stuart Lancaster’s impressive England on 1 March.

Two wins from two so far leave Schmidt and his squad in a fine position to go on and claim a second consecutive championship, but the Kiwi is unsurprisingly not getting carried away.

England ran six tries past Italy yesterday for their second win, while Schmidt also suggests one of Wales and Scotland will come back into title contention after their clash this afternoon [KO 15.00].

“A game against England is our next one and that’s what we’re planning for,” said Schmidt post-match in Dublin last night.

I’ve got too much respect for my old mates Gats [Warren Gatland] and Vern Cotter in Wales and Scotland, and I think that those two going head-to-head, one of those two teams will come back into the competition with a win, and it’s all on again.

“That’s one of the things I think is fantastic about the championship, that it is so tight and so difficult to win, and you can never say that you’ve got your nose in front until you get to that end point.”

Yesterday’s victory over les Bleus marked nine straight wins for Ireland under Schmidt, meaning they near the all-time Irish record of 10 in-a-row. That streak came across 2002 and 2003 during Eddie O’Sullivan’s reign, but Schmidt cares not for records.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt was relaxed after Ireland's latest victory. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I didn’t know that was a record, but I do know it will be a year since we last lost to England and we’ll be back facing the same foe, and it’s one that I have massive respect for,” said Schmidt.

“They have a really well-balanced team, they are well organised and well coached, and hopefully we can demonstrate a little bit of killer instinct and accuracy to get our noses in front.

“I thought their performance against Wales was probably better than anything we’ve put together so far, so we’re going to have to be better again.”

Captain O’Connell echoed his head coach’s sentiments in looking ahead to the meeting with England in two weekends’ time, pointing to Ireland’s need to improve if they are to beat a rounded English side.

I know the review from this [France] game is going to be quite tough,” outlined O’Connell. “I know it’s great to beat France, but same as when we came out of the autumn internationals, I think there’s a whole lot we need to improve on.

“There’s a whole lot of things that are going to need to be done better to compete against England. To be in the Millenium Stadium and 10 points down, to come back and dominate to the extent they did, it’s one of the best performances I’ve seen in the Six Nations for a long time.

“It’s going to be a huge challenge for us. There’s a lot of things that I’d like us to be doing better and a lot of things I’m sure Joe would like us to be doing better at this stage as well.”

Joe Schmidt talks to his team before the game Schmidt delivers the orders before kick-off against France. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Memories of last year’s 13-10 defeat in Twickenham are still fresh, a rare blemish on Schmidt’s record as Ireland coach and a sharp reminder that O’Connell and co. will need to be at their very best against Lancaster’s troops.

The second row recalls that Ireland “did some great things” during that defeat, but admits Ireland “probably let the momentum slip” with 55 minutes of the fixture gone. Finishing out games strongly remains something O’Connell is desperate for.

Typically of this Ireland group, there is no thought of revenge for last year’s loss to the English. As ever, it’s all about the process.

“It’s not a case of revenge,” said flanker Sean O’Brien. “If you go out looking for revenge, you get bit on the arse. It’s a case of being composed, measured and making sure we have all our detail in place, and that we’re singing off the same hymn sheet.”

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Murray Kinsella

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