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Dublin: 8 °C Monday 18 February, 2019

Joe Schmidt 'a great coach, but an intense, scary guy as well'

Joe Schmidt was impressed by Chris Henry long before he became Ireland coach, but the Ulster openside is still scared to put a foot wrong.

IRELAND OPENSIDE CHRIS Henry sounded a little surprised when the follow-up question came from New Zealand television reporters.

When they asked what kind of coach Joe Schmidt was, he didn’t butter the Kiwis up.

“He’s a great coach, but he’s a pretty intense, scary guy as well.

“You’ve got to have your homework done and know exactly what you’re doing because he sees everything. He’s a great guy, great coach and he certainly puts the pressure on us. This group of players respond really well to him so it’s an enjoyable environment to be in.”

Joe Schmidt with Keith Earls and Tommy Bowe Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With previous personal experience of Schmidt, it wasn’t the picture of the New Zealanders expected of the man. So they pushed again:

‘He’s quite different from other coaches, he seems quite laid back at times:’

The first part of the statement is certainly true, the second part should be put to serious scrutiny. Schmidt is obsessed with details, obsessed with improvement and he is relentless in his pursuit of excellence. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of time to be laid back when he goes to work. Except perhaps on the surface.

“He can be laid back at the right times, I guess,” Henry says.

“That’s something the whole squad tries to do. We try to be focused and intense at the right time and then chilled out.

“Joe notices the smallest of things. It puts a bit of fear and an extra bit in to you when you go out to walk through your plays or a training session. You know if you don’t work that extra wee bit or do the right lines or decoy lines, he’ll pick you up on it and he’ll tell you straight.”

Chris Henry Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Henry will be hoping that Schmidt sets him straight in to the starting line-up today for Sunday’s clash with Italy.

Whoever is selected in the back row, they expect to be across from Italy’s clear stand-out talent, Sergio Parisse.

Henry maintains that the game will come down to the “wee small” physical battles all over the Olympic Stadium pitch, but concedes that an extra emphasis on Italy’s iconic forwards will be useful.

“(Parisse) and (Martin) Castrogiovanni: any time Ireland have done well against Italy we’ve been on top of them very early and stopped them playing, generating that sort of spark.

“We never focus too much on one player, but without a doubt, if Parisse plays it’s going to be a case of two men on him instead of just one-on-one. We have to (get) on top of him very, very quickly.”

That, perhaps, is one of the collective details Schmidt will demand his team to get right. Individually, each player also has their own ‘work-ons’ to constantly strive to improve on. In Henry’s case, he is trying to work harder at getting in to to space and wide channels so he can up his metres-per-carry ratio.

“Any time you get the score for Ireland is incredible,” Henry said of his fourth try for his country, all of which have come during Schmidt’s reign.

“Most of my tries seem to be falling over with the ball off a maul, I’ll take them if they’re there. I think Sean Cronin was on the pitch at the time and he was trying to get it off me, but I was certainly not giving it to him – we had a bit of craic with it.

“Any time you get to cross the whitewash it’s a fantastic feeling. It would be nice to keep it going. I felt to myself I was getting the ball in space a wee bit more to go forward. That’s where I’m trying to improve my game. It’s great to score off the mauls, because it’s something you work on all week, but it’s nice to get the ball in space a bit more too.”

That might allay Henry’s fear a little.

Glasgow are in town and CJ Stander’s back in the Munster starting line-up

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Sean Farrell

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