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Schmidt hoping Ireland's challenges are a 'vaccination' for the World Cup

Injuries forced the Ireland boss to use his wider squad in Scotland last weekend.

WITH AN EXTENSIVE injury list coming into the game having already deprived him of a handful of key players, Joe Schmidt might have sighed in frustration at the sight of Johnny Sexton leaving the pitch in the 23rd minute in Edinburgh.

His first-choice out-half left the scene after taking an accidental blow to his face and didn’t return following a failed HIA.

Positively, though, this meant that Joey Carbery got 57 minutes on the pitch in which he started with an obvious error by being intercepted by Finn Russell, but then rebounded and grew into the game to tee up a delightful score for Keith Earls.

Keith Earls celebrates scoring their third try with Conor Murray and Peter O'Mahony Ireland celebrate Keith Earls' try in Murrayfield. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The experience will be invaluable for Carbery moving forward and the same goes for the likes of lineout caller Quinn Roux, impressive number eight Jack Conan and powerful outside centre Chris Farrell – all afforded opportunities with others injured.

All of these are good things for Ireland with a view to what lies ahead, namely the World Cup in Japan later this year.

Schmidt would dearly love to be two wins from two in this Six Nations and will push his players to their limits to fight back into the title race that looks like going England’s way at this point, but he has been looking to the bigger picture after leading his team to three titles in the last five years.

“Look, if we’d never won one of these before we would be even more gutted,” said Schmidt after his side’s 22-13 win in Edinburgh.

“But we’ve done well in the Six Nations in the last five years so if it doesn’t come to pass this year, there is a big thing at the end of the year for us.

“And any time we get the opportunity to blend guys in and be forced to make late changes and be forced to kind of reconstruct what we do on the pitch, I think it helps vaccinate us against what happened last time [when injuries to key players at the 2015 World Cup were so costly].

“While no vaccination is 100%, you’re hoping that inch-by-inch you can get a little bit more comfortable and confident that people can step in and do a job.”

That statement from Schmidt makes the next three rounds of the championship all the more fascinating. Yes, Ireland will do their best to win the Six Nations, but it’s clear that Schmidt is primarily concerned with the World Cup in his final year as head coach.

He will hope to have the likes of Tadhg Beirne, Dan Leavy and several others back from injury to swell his selection options for the trip to Italy in two weekends’ time, when we may see further opportunities afforded to the wider squad.

Ireland’s head coach Joe Schmidt Schmidt is looking at the bigger picture. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

That said, there is also a case to be made for the likes of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton getting more game time as Ireland look to play themselves into their best form in the coming weeks.

Schmidt certainly thinks the best is yet to come from Ireland in this Six Nations.

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“I thought the fluency, you know, we had two tries in the first quarter,” said Schmidt. “For me, that’s relatively good reward and you know the set-play that we did score off, that needs a bit of fluency.

“But then, when you lose your hub it is a big call to suddenly say you are not going to miss a beat and so we did miss a few beats and we did put a few passes down.

“Even then, twice Rob Kearney looked like he was almost away to score. He looked for Chris Farrell on the inside and if that pass goes to hand, I think Chris Farrell scores. We weren’t far away from breaking down what’s a really good defence.

“So I’m not distraught that we’ve got no options, I’m just frustrated I’d like us to be creating more opportunities so we can capitalise on more of them.”

It was indeed a frustrating afternoon for Ireland in Murrayfield, when a bonus point-securing fourth try eluded them and their attack remained short of its best.

It was intriguing to see Ireland pitted against the team they will face in their World Cup opener in Yokohama in September, with Scotland feeling they were close to a win but also lacking the accuracy required.

Tommy Seymour dejected after the game Ireland edged it after a scrappy second half. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A defeat to the Scots might have been psychologically damaging for Ireland, particularly off the back of losing at home to England.

“I was speaking to Andy Farrell before the game and we both said Yokohama feels like another world,” said Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend.

“We’ve got a pre-season, a World Cup camp to get through., it’s the first game of the World Cup so how well you do in your camp, and how well you get your plays in place in those friendlies will have more relevance than this game at BT Murrayfield.”

That may be the case, but it will be on us before we know it. 

Schmidt is a competitive beast and the opening weeks of this Six Nations will have given him plenty of sleepless nights, but if the challenges Ireland have faced help futureproof them for a successful World Cup, the stress will have been worth it. 

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