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Dublin: 11°C Monday 10 May 2021

'There's a method to any madness that happens': Schmidt sizes up Scots while poking holes in perception

The Kiwi set about dismantling the relevance of ball-in-play time statistics after Warren Gatland’s assertion that Wales would have beaten Ireland if the ball were alive for longer.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

JUST A FEW minutes after imploring people to ‘do their own homework’ when it comes to drawing conclusions on a team’s style of play, Joe Schmidt offered up examples of when the eyes, nor the stats, are not necessarily to be believed.

At first glance, the Scotland side coming to Dublin this weekend with an outside chance of winning the Championship are a team that thrives on chaos and feed on any hesitation in defensive adaptation.

Chaos doesn’t happen by accident, however, and Schmidt moved to dispel the image of Gregor Townsend as some dice-rolling, carefree coach. Townsend is an organiser – it just so happens that he presides over organised chaos. The quick-taps, the rush to width, running from deep, it’s as pre-planned and programmed as an eight-phase Schmidt power-play off set-piece.

“I would be massively against pigeon-holing people,” Schmidt said, not long after his team were somewhat pigeon-holed as one-dimensional attackers.

“Some of the labels people give people, I think they are a disservice to the person. People think that Gregor is a bit of a maverick, he is a high-risk taker.

“Gregor is incredibly methodical and very well-planned, he knows exactly what he is doing. So I think it would be naive to think that, suddenly, he is giving this massive license for everyone to do what they like. There is a method to any madness that happens.”

With that in mind, Schmidt made sure not to dwell overlong on the wide threats Scotland possess. Just as Townsend can’t be allocated one particular style box, the same goes for Scotland, who have shown the wealth of an excellent back row as well as unleashing one of the most exciting centres in the tournament

“People talk about their incredible ability to break you on the edges with that high tempo. Where does Huw Jones go though? He is incredibly dangerous going through the middle…

“I don’t think you can say ‘this is the package that Gregor Townsend brings’. I think Gregor Townsend is too intelligent to bring a package that’s predictable. I think we have got to be prepared for whatever they bring and there is no doubt that the Scotland forward pack will challenge us.

Gordon Reid Gordon Reid, Scotland's unsung hero according to Joe Schmidt. Source: Craig Watson/INPHO

“You have got to watch Gordon Reid, nobody talks very much about Gordon Reid, but he is very tough to stop when he gets those dynamic carries.”

Free-form or not, the prospect of facing this high-tempo Scotland attack brought Schmidt back to discussing Warren Gatland’s assertion that Wales would have beaten Ireland with a ball-in-play time of over 44 minutes.  As with any statistic though, using it in isolation is problematic and Schmidt eagerly set about picking holes in the argument.

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“It’s funny you mention that,” Schmidt said with the face of a pupil who had proudly dotted every I and crossed every T on his homework.

“The highest (ball-in-play) minutes at the minute was a game where there were very few passes made (England 12 Wales 6), where I think there was about 30 more kicks than any other game.

“You can keep the ball in play all you like and play no rugby.

“I think it’s one of those things that might fit snugly in summarising game, but it’s probably a truism that you can make stats say anything you like.”

Joe Schmidt Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

To that end, Schmidt pointed out that ball-in-play minutes can be drained away by the very aim of the game: scoring.

Tries scored, conversions, penalties kicked at goal or not; all the events you would like your team to have a lot of, take chunks of time out of the ball-in-play time.

England v Wales brought a remarkably low number of penalties and just two early tries, and Schmidt took the opportunity to issue a reminder that Ireland touched down five times against Wales.

“You imagine, eight tries in a game… you can take probably take eight to 10 minutes out of the game by the time it’s all muddled around a little bit. Then it becomes a 70-minute game. If they stop us scoring tries then they will get more game minutes.”

The Ireland head coach added: “so, two ways to have more ball-in-play time is not to have too many tries and not to have too many penalties, the other way is not to kick the ball out – have lots of kicks, but keep them all inside the white lines.

“I think that’s a different perspective on the same statistical facts.”

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Sean Farrell

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