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95 minutes of training time in 'unsettling and frustrating' week for Schmidt

Late selection calls and a focus on recovery have made it a difficult week for the reigning champs.

TRAINING SESSIONS UNDER Joe Schmidt always look to have a heavy emphasis on the ‘drill’ side of things. Precision is a must, they’re always sharp.

When the Kiwi isn’t slotting himself into the back line, he is marching up behind rucks, barking instructions and giving shrill whistle blasts to signal the time for players to move on, immediately, to the next task.

Joe Schmidt Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

This week at Carton House, Schmidt must have had his whistle, stopwatch and those of his squad available to train on an even shorter chain than usual.

Time is a constant obstacle Schmidt points out in match preparation. He has been flagging this six-day turnaround since long before Sunday, and the numbers he clocked during during sessions today and Tuesday were a stark reminder of how difficult it can be to make a team ready in weeks like this.

“We had a very short window this week. We trained for 32 minutes on Tuesday and for 63 minutes today,” Schmidt said with as grave a face as he has ever worn on team announcement day.

That 95-minute total will rise with tomorrow’s Captain’s Run takes place at the Stade de France. But by then, training is no longer private and it’s too close to game time to do much more than a soft run through set pieces and get some sweat on tackle bags.

In the absence of quantity then, the sore squad have been focused on quality recovery for the majority of the week. Only breaking a real sweat and running over today’s 63-minute spell in Maynooth.

Had the R&R window been a touch wider, it might have allowed Simon Zebo or Keith Earls back into contention, a point Schmidt made at around 12.55 on a tightly-scheduled Thursday afternoon.

“It’s one of those things with a six-day turnaround, particularly when you’re travelling.

CJ Stander, Dave Kearney and Jamie Heaslip with Aer Lingus cabin crew member Deirdre Eighan Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“If we had another day at home we could hedge our bets (with recovering players) a little bit, but we have to get on a plane at 15.15 this afternoon, and we’ve got to take the players that are available to play.”

The coach added: ”Normally we would name the match squad before training, and everyone would be fully fit and have absolute clarity on what their role was and where they were training.

“It’s probably a bit unsettling and frustrating, but we have to get around it.”

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The players themselves gave off no hint of the uneasiness felt by the coach. They are used to living with no guarantees, so a delayed team announcement was just that, a delay, no cause for any more drama than normal.

Mike McCarthy and James Cronin Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“Joe keeps you on your toes,” says 34-year-old Mike McCarthy after seeing off the challenge of Donnacha Ryan to play a second Test in six days.

“Nobody knew what the team was going to be, to be honest.”

It’s put to McCarthy that the possible upside of all this is that the reigning champions can bring a team bruised, but battle-hardened into week two.. While France, after riding their luck against Italy, were free enough to make four unenforced (of six) changes.

“When you say battle hardened, at a personal level that would mean to me: I’ve played a number games on the trot and my match fitness is up to scratch and I’m feeling good about myself,” the veteran lock said with a shake of the head.

“We had a tough game, but France had a tough game against Italy. They’re bringing in fresh guys and we’ve had another week to gel together. I can’t really say who it’s going to favour.”

Set the stopwatch, we’ll soon find out.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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