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'One opposition coach has tried to create that story': Schmidt defends Ireland's creative powers

Ahead of tomorrow’s clash with Wales, Schmidt sought to dispel comments Warren Gatland made in 2015.

A DEFAULT SETTING for Joe Schmidt ahead of big games like this is usually to heap praise on the upcoming opponent. When he points to strengths, he will happily reel off team-sheets, benches and past instances of impressive play.

Ahead of tomorrow’s crucial Six Nations clash with Wales, Schmidt was irked out of that mode and instead went to extol the virtues of own team’s style.

Ireland’s recent record against Wales is a blot on an otherwise impressive body of work for Schmidt, with the former Leinster coach managing to win only a pre-World Cup warm-up fixture over the last five meetings with the Principality.

Joe Schmidt with Warren Gatland Schmidt and Gatland speak before their World Cup warm-up in the Aviva in 2015. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A few short weeks after that victory in Cardiff, Wales returned the favour by winning in Dublin. Banging the drum before he faced into a pool against England and Australia, Warren Gatland chose his moment to shoot at the then reigning Six Nations champions.

“I don’t think Ireland play a lot of rugby,” Gatland said, “I thought they were really narrow at times and a lot of the players are quite narrow. When they play that game effectively, when they use their one-off runners effectively and get some success from cross-kicks, that’s what they’re good at doing.

“We didn’t feel like we were troubled at all in the wide channels.”

Fielding questions after naming his team for the 2018 renewal of the rivalry, Schmidt was evidently still stinging from his compatriot’s comments.

When it was pointed out that Ireland were unable to create a try in last season’s loss – and scored two tries, one a penalty try, in the previous two Championship meetings – the Kiwi detailed the “fine margins” involved in tight tussles and issued a warning that his side must be ready for whatever form Wales’ attack takes.

Schmidt was then asked if Ireland may need to change up their approach in attack to break Wales down and succeed in beating them in the Six Nations for the first time since 2014.

“What can you change? It’s a game of rugby,” responded the Kiwi.

“Sometimes we kick, sometimes we run wide, sometimes we go through the middle.

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“I think if anyone tried to analyse what we do, there is a lot of variety in what we do. I think that the times we have not quite managed to get the results against Wales we have probably had as much of the game as they had and haven’t been able to put the game away.”

When the TV cameras and radio mics left the room, the head coach was asked if the perception of Ireland’s attack as being somehwat blunt was a source of annoyance.

Short answer: yes. Long answer:

“I am not even saying there is all this opportunity,” says Schmidt, “I’m just saying sometimes it is frustrating because one opposition coach has tried to create that story and people have picked it up without doing their own analysis.

“I think there is a degree of frustration from our players. I am not sure why he would get more credence than Daniel Hourcade who was really impressed or by Allister Coetzee who was really impressed.”

Warren Gatland Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It would have been odd for a coach from Argentina or South Africa to criticise a team having just lost and conceded three and four tries respectively, but Schmidt’s point is taken. The Six Nations will continue to deliver tight, tense games that are high on drama if not always tries – though Schmidt’s Ireland have developed the handy knack of piling them on against Italy.

In turn, Ireland’s head coach has apparently taken something from Gatland’s withering appraisal from 2015. Post-World Cup there has been a shift in elements of Ireland’s play with greater width more regularly employed from deep, though the big ball-carriers are still put to work once there is a foothold in the 22.

“Do we play slightly differently from how we did two years ago? I think anyone who does analysis would say: ‘yes we do.’ There are some changes in what we do. I am obviously not going to explain them. That’s your guys’ challenge I guess.”

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Sean Farrell

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