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Schmidt's focus on 'the small jobs' to get Ireland through Cardiff test

Paul O’Connell says his side still haven’t wasted time thinking about a potential Grand Slam.

Murray Kinsella reports from Cardiff

THE TOUGHEST GAME of Ireland’s Six Nations so far?

That seems to be the case, and this is the one we felt would be the stumbling block at the beginning of the championship. Take Wales to Dublin and you might give Ireland seven-point favouritism now, but home advantage makes a difference.

General view of the captain's run The Millennium Stadium, with roof open, as Ireland carried out their captain's run yesterday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

That said, Ireland have had good times in Cardiff, none more memorable than 2009.

There is such a sense of familiarity to this fixture, from the players who have served Wales consistently for a number of years, to Warren Gatland’s style of play, to the Millennium Stadium.

But even in that awareness of what awaits, there are new memories being wrought.

“It’s a fantastic stadium,” said Paul O’Connell after his captain’s run yesterday. ”Even I was jogging across the pitch with Jordi Murphy, he’s never played here before and when he came out, he looked around and thought it was an incredible stadium straight away.

I suppose a lot of us are very experienced so it’s quite rare that you hear someone saying that. It’s rare to go to grounds like this and guys behind you haven’t played there before at some point or another.”

Read into that what you will, but it seems a nice moment for replacement back row Murphy and his 100-cap captain.

Much of the build-up to this fixture, even this weekend of Six Nations rugby, has focused on how the game is being played. Ireland kick too often, Wales are too direct; elements of truth in both arguments perhaps, but not wholly representative of the real picture.

Ireland have done their utmost to break the opposition down with ball in hand, but it hasn’t clicked yet in this Six Nations. Joe Schmidt’s well-constructed starter plays were there against England, while Wales insist their players have license to pass for width.

Paul O'Connell Paul O'Connell goes through his preparation. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Who knows? When we played them last year there wasn’t much scrum work,” said Ireland assistant coach Greg Feek when asked how this game might look.

“Both teams want to play, especially Wales with the backline they have. So we’re prepared for it all, and that’s how you’ve got to be. It could be that on the day it could be something unforeseen might happen, but I think we’re prepared for whatever comes.”

That much is never really a doubt with Ireland under Schmidt; preparation is what his entire philosophy is built upon. The potential for a Grand Slam does of course flicker into their minds, but you believe O’Connell when he says it’s not the focus at this point.

I do think the way Joe prepares the team is a good way of actually dispelling those thoughts from your mind,” said the Munster second row.

“We had a fairly tough review of the England game in Belfast last week and then we started putting together a plan for Wales. That’s all across the board with Feeky’s stuff, with Simon Easterby’s stuff, Les [Kiss]‘s stuff, and Joe’s stuff. If you’re not fully focused on getting those small jobs right, I don’t think you can perform.

“That’s the way we’ve prepared for quite some time now. We’ve looked back at the last game to help us move forward and then just fully focused on the next game and almost not even looking beyond the first half of the next game.

Jonathan Sexton Sexton's influence will again be important for Ireland. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“That’s they way Joe does things and I think when you’re in with a shout of a championship or whatever, it’s a good way to prepare and avoid distraction.”

The same applies to Ireland’s much-discussed 10-game winning streak, O’Connell pointing out that it’s utterly meaningless when they run out in Cardiff against Wales today.

Instead, “it’s either going to be their kick-off or our kick-off and you’ll have a job to do.” From there, “you just keep trying to repeat all those little jobs, trying to win as many of those little moments as you can, and that’s all you can do.”

It sounds too simplistic, but therein lies the value of Schmidt’s leadership of this Ireland squad. There will be intricacies and details galore within the game plan, but this side is thriving on the clarity of direction coming from the Kiwi and his stewards.

Wales too know exactly what Gatland wants, but you just suspect that there is even more to come from this Ireland team.

Prediction: Ireland 20-17 Wales

Ireland

15. Rob Kearney
14. Tommy Bowe
13. Jared Payne
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. Simon Zebo
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray

1. Jack McGrath
2. Rory Best
3. Mike Ross
4. Devin Toner
5. Paul O’Connell (captain)
6. Peter O’Mahony
7. Sean O’Brien
8. Jamie Heaslip

Replacements:

16. Sean Cronin
17. Cian Healy
18. Marty Moore
19. Iain Henderson
20. Jordi Murphy
21. Eoin Reddan
22. Ian Madigan
23. Felix Jones

Wales

15. Leigh Halfpenny
14. George North
13. Jonathan Davies
12. Jamie Roberts
11. Liam Williams
10. Dan Biggar
9. Rhys Webb

1. Gethin Jenkins
2. Scott Baldwin
3. Samson Lee
4. Luke Charteris
5. Alun-Wyn Jones
6. Dan Lydiate
7. Sam Warburton (captain)
8. Taulupe Faletau

Replacements:

16. Richard Hibbard
17. Rob Evans
18. Aaron Jarvis
19. Jake Ball
20. Justin Tipuric
21. Mike Phillips
22. Rhys Priestland
23. Scott Williams

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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