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Injuries bring World Cup to mind as Schmidt seeks flexibility

The Ireland head coach was enthusiastic about the prospect of entering a crucial game without his first choice lock and centres
Feb 7th 2019, 5:24 PM 16,256 0

IF ‘ACCURACY’ WAS the key word and theme early this week as Ireland attempted to move on from defeat to England, it was replaced by ‘opportunity’ by Joe Schmidt today ahead of the trip to Scotland.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt in training in Maynooth this afternoon. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Gregor Townsend’s men may provide Ireland’s opposition for the World Cup opener later this year, but there is little or no correlation to be found between the fixtures, according to any member of Ireland camp asked.

And yet, there was a World Cup game still on Schmidt’s mind, the loss that has annoyed and influenced him more than any other. More, even, than the number England pulled at the Aviva Stadium.

The 2015 World Cup final infamously saw Ireland stripped of five key players before Argentina made hay under the roof in Cardiff. Heading into a make-or-break meeting with Scotland, the absence of Iain Henderson, Tadhg Beirne, Devin Toner, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Luke McGrath and Kieran Marmion must have brought a painful flashback for Schmidt.

So he instead reached for positive notes, and the prospect of testing the depth chart seven months out from his final tournament with this team.

“I think it’s a fantastic opportunity. We could be struck with a similar circumstance as we did four years ago,” said the head coach after unveiling his team.

We’ve achieved a lot of things in this particular tournament. We need to be able to be flexible, we need to have guys transition in and out as seamlessly as possible. That’s an opportunity that has presented itself.”

Personnel flexibility has rarely been an issue for Schmidt’s team as his players have continually shown a remarkable ability to slot in at the shortest possible notice and excel thanks to the level of detail the head coach demands. The difficulty comes when a front-liner’s absence is compounded by another.

This weekend, one opportunity comes for the centre partnership, but the more severe test will likely be for the second row where James Ryan is suddenly the more experienced man in the partnership with the under-rated Quinn Roux.

Ireland’s Quinn Roux Roux takes a pass against England. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

With the regular line-out leaders Toner and Henderson out of omission, Roux and Peter O’Mahony will call the line-out and Schmidt backed the Connacht man to show the work he has put in on the training ground.

“Quinn (called the line-out) when he replaced Dev. He’s done it for us a lot in training and he’s done it a lot in Connacht.”

Tied up in Schmidt’s word of the day is a counter-action to the notion that Ireland must unleash fire and fury to bounce back from opening day defeat.

Before a ruck was hit in the Championship, the Kiwi felt a reversal to Eddie Jones may have forced the need to change Ireland’s mental approach. But he is wary of players over-steering to correct errors or deficits.

“We’ve actually deliberately tried not to change it (mentality),” said the head coach.

“The last thing you want to do is to try and chase a Championship. Going to Scotland against such a tough team. We have to build our way into the game. We can’t be chasing things and try to get instant results.

Ireland team huddle Ireland circle the wagons at Carton House. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“You’ve got to earn whatever you get out there. Because they give so little away and they work so hard for each other. I’d be really proud of the way they work if I was Gregor and I’m sure he is. So, for us, it doesn’t change the mentality too much. We just want to take it one game at a time. We’re not going to chase a tournament when we got such a tough task in front of us.”

Though Schmidt is intent on staying the course, he hit back at the suggestion – from Stuart Barnes and Gordon D’Arcy among others – that his team is unable to adapt and switch to a ‘Plan B’ or ‘Plan C’ when a match is not going their way.

“I’d like to see how they’d describe our Plan A, to be honest,” quipped Schmidt before issuing a reminder that he is never short of unsolicited suggestions about how he ought to go about his job.

“I always get a lot of advice, there wouldn’t be too many weeks go by that I don’t get a letter, suggesting somebody play there, or suggesting a set play or suggesting something. And that’s when we’re winning.

So when you lose you get at least three letters.

“And so you can expect people to be saying a lot about how we play, and what Plan A, B, C or D look like. So I’m not sure how they summarise ‘Plan A’, because I think we have a very varied game.

“We play strong off set-piece, we play a varied kicking game, we play with a varied attacking game. And we try to vary our defensive game. So I guess I’ll leave them to do their analysis, and we’ll keep analysing what we’re doing, and trying to improve.”

From the immediate aftermath of the England loss, the big area for improvement and change Schmidt did identify was physicality. Now it’s another ‘opportunity’ ahead of Ireland this week.

“There has been a better edge. I do think we had a few tired bodies coming in, we had a few guys who hadn’t played a lot. It is hard to suddenly hit the ground running.

“Conor and Johnny haven’t played together since Australia and hadn’t played a lot full stop. Conor coming back and Johnny not having played since the Munster game… there’s no way we want to volunteer any excuses because there are none.

“You’ve got to get out and you’ve got to play well in your first game. We hadn’t lost at home in over five years in the Six Nations, and that hurt for sure. There weren’t too many guys who slept well on Saturday night, it probably took us, really until today to really get a spring back in our step and really get hungry because we can’t pass up a second opportunity to get our best foot forward.”

Originally published at 17.24

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