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Dublin: 14 °C Wednesday 26 June, 2019

Schmidt focuses Irish minds for physical series finale in South Africa

The Ireland head coach says poor lineout ball didn’t allow Ireland to attack expansively.

Rory Keane reports from Port Elizabeth

IT REALLY DOESN’T get any tougher than this.

A third consecutive Test against the Springboks in their own backyard after a 52-week season and now without the services of Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne.

Who’d be an international rugby coach?

Joe Schmidt addresses the backs Schmidt with his starting backline for tomorrow. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

You get the feeling that Joe Schmidt relishes these kind of challenges. For months, the Kiwi has been preparing for this series, poring over hours of footage and working closely with his backroom team to devise ​the tactic​s ​needed to defeat the Boks on their ​home turf. ​

It all went to plan in Cape Town. So much so that his squad were able to survive with 14 men for the best part of an hour.

Everything was going smoothly in Johannesburg until the sizeable Bok bench entered the fray not to mention the debilitating effects of high altitude. A 16-point lead with less than 20 minutes remaining suggests Schmidt had done his homework once again.

Now, it all comes down to this encounter in Port Elizabeth. No doubt, he will have been burning the midnight oil​ devising a new plan​ this week.

“I think it is in the context of where we are right now,” said Schmidt on the scale of this weekend’s challenge.

“I thought Jo’burg was a massive ask. To be honest, I thought Cape Town was an extremely difficult ask especially after the first 20 minutes. To lose CJ [Stander] and be down to 14 men having never won here before, I thought it was exceptional.

“To go to Jo’burg then and I think everyone is really, really disappointed that we let such a fantastic opportunity slip, but I think we deserved to have the margin we did.

“We worked hard to build that on the back of very little field position and very little possession. That’s where we need to be able to put our best foot forward.”

Ireland’s head coach Joe Schmidt Schmidt will be hoping to celebrate tomorrow evening. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Allister Coetzee has joined the Warren Gatland and Eddie Jones bandwagon in recent weeks with the Springboks head coach labelling Ireland a conservative outfit who seek to play very little rugby in the Test arena.

This Irish side are no Harlem Globetrotters in rugby terms, but their attacking endeavour particularly in the first Test was there for all to see; conservative sides do not make seven offloads and score two tries of that quality.

As for the Test at Ellis Park, Ireland simply had no ball. A problem which Schmidt will hope to have solved come kick-off this Saturday:

“We had five lineouts in the game [​last weekend​], of which we lost one and a couple that wanted to play off kind of got shut down at source, so were very static and we ended up kicking off them because if the ball becomes static against South Africa and they’re lined up and coming hard at you, it’s pretty hard to generate quick ball.

“People can talk about them getting a bit narrow and getting it to the edges, but it’s very hard to get it to the edges when they’re coming so hard because if you get caught trying to transfer the ball then those are the collisions you can’t afford to lose.

“You haven’t got many players behind those guys out there and it does make it very difficult.​

“I felt that we made it work a couple of times in the first Test when we only had 14 men on the pitch and in fact we made a good line break with 13 men on the pitch, so it’s possible but we have to get everything nailed on because of the physical nature of the way they defend, and funnily enough they play with the ball in a similar vein.”

This squad will bid farewell to a monumental servant of Irish rugby when Eoin Reddan hangs up his boots after this weekend’s finale.

Schmidt has worked closely with Reddan throughout this time on Irish shores. First at Leinster where the Limerick man was director-in-chief at the base of the scrum ​having played​ a central role in their back-to-back Heineken Cup triumphs in 2011 and 2012.

Joe Schmidt, Greg Feek, Eoin Reddan, CJ Stander and Donnacha Ryan with the kids Schmidt and Reddan were among those to visit The Bhudesi Pride Charity. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Conor Murray has been unquestionably Ireland’s first-choice scrum-half since Schmidt came on board but Reddan has provided plenty of game-changing impact throughout that period.

For Schmidt, two of his best Reddan memories spring to mind; an outrageous dummy during Leinster’s 40-7 demolition of Northampton in 2013 and another audacious piece of skill against Romania at last year’s World Cup, when he set up Keith Earls for a second-half try.

“To be honest it wasn’t anything to do with me,” Schmidt explained.

“It was when he dislocated both shoulders throwing the most outrageous dummy I’ve ever seen playing away to Northampton in the Heineken Cup. It was the week after we’d lost to New Zealand.

“It was a pretty depressing week to be honest, and Redser threw a dummy that, honestly, I think he did dislocate both shoulders. His arms went with the ball and he shot through a massive gap and got right away into the clear.

“I remember that win, they won by ​30-something​ points and certainly put 40 points up, and I thought that day Eoin Reddan was as good as I’ve seen him play.

“Probably the other one was when he captained the team against Romania in the World Cup, and he shot down the short side and put in the most superb, left-footed little grubber kick, because he wouldn’t be great with his left foot as a rule, that Earlsy picked up and scored off.

“And it couldn’t have been much more perfect. Earlsy will probably tell you he had to do quite a lot for the try but he just had to catch it on his chest and fall down. Yeah, they were a couple of really nice touches ​from​ him.”

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