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Schmidt needs quick learners as Ireland look to lose 'bad habit' of failing to win

The prospect of welcoming Italy to Dublin in two weekends’ time is a relief.

“THERE’S GOT TO be room for growth because if there’s not, it’s going to be a very bad habit that we don’t want to be part of.”

It would be the shock of the season if Ireland’s winless run was to continue in the two closing rounds of the Six Nations against Italy and Scotland, but Joe Schmidt understands better than anyone that rapid improvement is needed.

Joe Schmidt during the warm up Schmidt feels his side have no luck at the moment. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There were positives mixed in with the disappointments in Twickenham on Saturday, including first caps for three exciting young players, but Ireland again looked like a team lacking in the self-belief and killer’s instinct that are required to win Test matches.

Schmidt insists his side are not far away from the likes of England and France, who beat them by a single point in the second round of the championship, and also believes Ireland have had a lack of luck this season.

With just two tries in their opening three games, the worst record in the Six Nations [Italy have four], there is one obvious reason Ireland are coming up short.

Schmidt says Ireland are getting close in this department. He points to Robbie Henshaw being denied by Jack Nowell after a Johnny Sexton break and Josh van der Flier’s TMO-denied score as two pertinent examples on Saturday.

Robbie, he’s agonising over should he have dived earlier, should he have stepped back inside because Jack Nowell was coming so fast, should he have used two hands. He felt he probably could have and he’ll look back at it and he’s young kid and he’ll learn from it.

“Josh, I felt he was pretty unlucky, that call could have gone either way. And then the line break with Ultan [Dillane], on the back of that we are streaming through and we just couldn’t get that ball quick. You know, that’s a fraction away from being a score.

“And I think we lost three or four lineouts in the 22, you just can’t afford to do that against a side like England because they’re not going to invite you back in and give you another shot. And even when they did allow us back in there we didn’t convert.”

On the other side of the ball, Schmidt was proud of the Irish effort. He felt the first-half effort, which involved the need to scramble on several occasions, was “representative of the character in the group.”

Rhys Ruddock, Eoin Reddan, Conor Murray and Rory Best after the game A dejected Ireland leave the pitch at Twickenham. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Those positives were balanced out by the two tries Ireland conceded in the second half, however, after they had taken the lead with Conor Murray’s try.

“I think we showed a bit of nervousness and a little bit of anxiety that we can’t afford to show,” says Schmidt. “You’ve got to be confident in the system and confident in your ability in a one-on-one to make your tackles.”

After a run of four games without a win, it is a relief for Ireland to be welcoming the worst team in the competition to Dublin in two weekends’ time, although there will be no complacency when Jacques Brunel’s men arrive.

With three new Ireland internationals in Stuart McCloskey, Josh van der Flier and Ultan Dillane, as well as a new captain in Rory Best and increased responsibility for men like Henshaw, recent months have meant adjustment for Ireland.

Now they need to start taking their chances and delivering results.

“There’s got to be, because you can’t lose Test matches and you can’t put yourself in the picture, get ahead in the second half with 30 minutes to go, then give up two tries and not convert the chances that you have to score,” says Schmidt when asked if there’s room for growth in this Ireland side.

“As I’ve said, there’s two really clear chances to score but in behind that there are two mauls moving straight for the line and both times there’s infringements that, then, on the back of those, we don’t win the lineout; that’s superb defence from England.

“We’ve got to be good enough to convert that despite guys coming in the side and being refereed as such – I’ve no complaints about the referee there – but on the back of that, we don’t do well enough on our lineout.

“At the end, we felt a bit unlucky that Josh wasn’t awarded a try but then we didn’t do well enough at the scrum subsequent to that.”

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Joe Schmidt watches the match Schmidt and his coaching team watch on in London. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

There is a degree of naivety about Ireland at the moment, a certain lack of a tough edge. Though England pushed the boundaries at times in Twickenham, they were by far the more assertive, confrontational and muscular of the sides.

Schmidt’s hope is that increased experience for a number of his players will allow them to bring that side of the game too, though the likes of Best, Sexton, Murray, Devin Toner, Mike Ross, Jamie Heaslip, Andrew Trimble, Rob Kearney, Keith Earls, Jack McGrath and Donnacha Ryan certainly don’t lack experience.

“You just keep working really hard,” says Schmidt of how Ireland proceed from here. “I don’t think if anyone watched us training they’d say that we’re sitting and waiting.

We’re working really hard to try and fast track some guys through, to try and fast track some combinations so that they can be as intuitive as possible.

“On the back of that, if you won a couple of games it’s always a bit easier to get those combinations, because you feel a bit more confidence in them on the back of having what I thought was a really good performance against Wales in getting the draw and some elements of the French game, I felt we played very well in the first 30 minutes.

“But we’re not quite getting the result, therefore you start to question what you’re doing a little bit. Any hesitation at this level is a recipe for disaster. We’ve got to maintain our confidence, keep our heads up, roll our sleeves up and go again.”

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Murray Kinsella

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