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Sleepless nights for Schmidt, who looks to keep the wheels firmly on the bus

The Ireland head coach said the door is not closed on hooker Sean Cronin.

Murray Kinsella reports from Melbourne

THE IRISH TEAM bus broke down just as they were leaving St Kevin’s College after their training session yesterday, quite probably adding to what has been a stressful week for the winning-addicted perfectionist that is Joe Schmidt.

The last time Ireland had bus issues they lost to Scotland in Murrayfield in 2017 but Schmidt and his players have been working hard to ensure that any possible bad omens this week are meaningless.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt speaking in Melbourne yesterday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

To be fair to the Ireland coach, he was in good form by the time he arrived at his scheduled press conference back at the team hotel, slightly late but delivering plenty of apologies.

For Schmidt, the painful wait is almost nearly over.

While his players have been feeling the stinging sensation of last weekend’s Test defeat to the Wallabies, it’s questionable whether it hurts anyone more than Schmidt.

The Ireland boss has endured several sleepless nights this week, beginning immediately after the 18-9 loss in Brisbane last weekend.

Schmidt got back to the team hotel following the game and the first thing he did was watch South Africa’s thrilling win over England on TV, “so I could take my mind off it for a while.”

He then faced the inevitable and fired up his laptop to take in the first half of Ireland’s defeat, fell asleep for a couple of hours, and awoke to review the second half.

By the time he arrived down to breakfast on Sunday morning, Schmidt was comfortable with his impressions of the game – what Ireland had done well and what needed to improve ahead of the second Test.

No one escapes Schmidt’s desperate search for improvement, himself included.

“I’m not sure whether we win, lose or draw that I am not self-critical,” says Schmidt.

“I would say it is always more self-analytical because if you do not critique what you have done, there is always a danger that you will overlook something and even if you get the win, you will get stung at some stage if you are not looking back over things and using a critical eye to be as forensic as you can.”

Peter O'Mahony and Joe Schmidt Schmidt speaks to Ireland captain Peter O'Mahony. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Schmidt’s forensic eye will have honed in on the detail around the breakdown, the scrum, the aerial battle and many other elements of the game that are not as obvious to the rest of us.

And while Schmidt does focus on what Ireland need to do better, he has also been keen to underline to his players that they should have confidence in their ability to bounce back this weekend, Grand Slam champions as they are.

“I think the players have talked about backing themselves,” says Schmidt. “I am not sure if an Irishman ever promotes himself and says they are better than other people. It is probably not so much in their character to step out and say, ‘I am really good at this game’.

“I think there is a big sense we are capable of winning this game, that we have the personnel, the individuals, who would be able to do it.

“Garry Ringrose was speaking to you earlier; he is a guy who would say very little about himself but if he does not have confidence deep down, I would be surprised because I think he is a super player.

“What we can bring this week hopefully will give their confidence a little bit of boost. While we probably won’t talk about it too much, hopefully it will consolidate a bit of self-belief.”

Schmidt’s eight changes to the starting team should mean a stronger Irish effort, particularly with the likes of Johnny Sexton, Ringrose and Dan Leavy offering something different.

Andrew Conway gets a chance to shine on the right wing, having impressed Schmidt last November before missing the Six Nations through injury.

The inclusion of Niall Scannell at hooker came as something of a surprise but Ireland were disappointed with Sean Cronin’s scrummaging effort off the bench and he pays the price in being omitted from the matchday 23 altogether.

Sean Cronin Cronin has missed out on selection. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We always came with the intent to give a little bit of experience to guys and to give everyone a little bit of an opportunity,” says Schmidt. “One of the features from last week was the scrum and we are hopeful Niall can add a bit of value in the scrum, and we also felt that Robbie Herring got better and better as the game went on at scrum time.

“The other thing is our lineout was super last week and Rob Herring threw really, really well. So we know we are going to have to be really good at the set-piece.

“The forecast is mixed, so whatever it ends up being – it seems to vary, much like Dublin does, it goes up and down – so there is a fair bit of thought and consideration given to all the selections but to that one obviously, and I would certainly defer to our experts in that area of the pitch to make some calls that will hopefully benefit the team.

“At the same time, we know how good Sean can be for us and has been over a number of years, so there is another opportunity next week, so we are probably trying to balance things through the three weeks.”

After a Grand Slam-winning season in which Ireland also enjoyed a clean sweep of their November Tests, Schmidt is aware that a defeat this weekend – ensuring the loss of the Test series – would be a dour note to end the campaign on.

“You are as good as your last game and I know that is a horrible cliché but you are,” says Schmidt. “Certainly, how we felt after losing the first Test, it hurts.

“You don’t sleep too well, you run it over in your mind a few times, you watch it back a fair few times, and you try to find solutions to problems.

“Some of them were self-created and some were created by a really good Australian side and that is something we do not want to forget – how good they are.

“So we will do our best to achieve [a win] because we don’t want to feel we have let ourselves down after going 12 months unbeaten and having some fantastic moments.

“To have your holiday start on the back of a poor tour would make the holiday break not quite as enjoyable.”

Schmidt will be more determined than anyone to keep the wheels firmly on the bus.

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Murray Kinsella

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