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Dublin: 6°C Monday 18 January 2021

'We were very quiet before the game' - Schmidt looks for response against Scots

The head coach does, however, have confidence that his players can respond strongly against Scotland.

Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

IRELAND’S OWN INQUEST will be more brutal than anything on the outside.

The hurt Joe Schmidt and his players suffered on Saturday as England came to Dublin and romped to a bonus-point win will make sure of that.

The Ireland boss’ pain was evident post-match at the Aviva Stadium as he fronted up to the media for his standard 25 minutes of picking through the facts and the regrets.

Andrew Porter, Bundee Aki, Jonathan Sexton and Robbie Henshaw after an England try Ireland watch on as England convert one of their four tries. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Unfortunately for Ireland, there weren’t too many positives to highlight as Schmidt admitted his team had been physically bullied and deservedly beaten.

There were slight gripes around some of the officiating but Schmidt was honest in outlining the concerns he has after his side’s underperformance in the first game of their Grand Slam defence.

Among those worries is the fact that Ireland have started another international window slowly, as they have done frequently in the past under Schmidt, who admits it’s “a bit of a concern looking further ahead,” i.e. towards the World Cup later this year.

Rarely has an Ireland team as close to full strength as Saturday’s delivered such a disappointing display.

“There is always a risk of having slow starts when you first get guys together because it is never quite as cohesive as you would like it to be,” said Schmidt.

“I thought our tight five did well today, we have got a loose forward trio that know each other well enough. The only significant change was Robbie [Henhaw to fullback].

“It was more around… we were very quiet before the game. I didn’t sense the same kind of energy levels that I would have noticed in November when the All Blacks came.

“And if you don’t have those energy levels and have that mental preparation done, it is pretty difficult to get a foothold back into the game.

“I didn’t sense it, I didn’t feel it… you almost get this vibrancy from the group and we didn’t quite have it tonight. It’s disappointing and difficult to put your finger on exactly what it was, but you are talking about human beings here.

An Ireland fan dejected late in the game A dejected Ireland fan. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“There is emotional energy that needs to be switched on collectively and it’s very hard if that’s not quite present to suddenly generate it if it doesn’t begin at the very start. I’m not sure quite why but is disappointing that we didn’t have that same vibrancy that we normally do have.

“We did get back… we got up 10-7. Then came their second try – Jacob [Stockdale] was back for that, but the ball slips away, and they get a great boost of oxygen from a try where they didn’t have to do too much and that always gives you a spring in your step.

“It was a little similar to the one we got [through Garry Ringrose] last year in Twickenham. We got a try on the back of something we did not have to work as hard for.”

To say England didn’t have to “do too much” for Elliot Daly’s score is a little disingenuous from Schmidt, who knows better than anyone what goes into pressuring errors from defences. 

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Schmidt did, however, point to the danger that England will only get better with the confidence boost of this win in Dublin. 

Eddie Jones’ men take on France in London on Sunday and will now be eyeing championship success with far greater confidence.

“They are playing really well to the limit,” said Schmidt. “It makes it very suffocating and they’ve got the firepower. We all just walked past Billy [Vunipola] in the corridor and he generates a lot of force.

“To be able to get solutions there, one of our solutions was to go in behind those big men. We couldn’t quite get access there.

“There are only so many places you can go on that 70-by-100 metre piece of grass.

“As far as England are concerned, we will take a quick look back at them. For us now, it’s all about Scotland and we will try to springboard our way in from there.”

Bundee Aki and Sean Cronin dejected after the game Ireland need a strong response. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

That visit to the Scots in Edinburgh on Saturday afternoon [KO 2.15pm] will make for riveting viewing as Ireland attempt to bounce back, while Gregor Townsend’s side look to build on their victory over Italy.

Schmidt is confident that “one game has completely undone us” and expects a response from his players.

“I think it would be a little bit of a knee-jerk reaction to believe, on the back of one poor performance, we’ve suddenly lost all the progress and all the confidence we’ve tried to build over the last number of years.”

The last time Ireland visited Murrayfield – one of the aforementioned slow starts to a campaign – in 2017, they found themselves 21-5 down at half-time and lost 27-22.

Schmidt acknowledges that this week is a mental challenge as much as anything, but he won’t waver in his belief in his players based on one defeat.

“There are a lot of guys hurting at the moment and they will be looking for a way back in and I think the only way back in is to roll their sleeves up and show that resilience mentally that we are going to have to be able to demonstrate on Saturday.

“It’s about physically getting up and having that vibrancy. It’s about mentally being attuned and ready to go and retaining the confidence that we should have.”

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Murray Kinsella

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