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'I get a pretty good feeling from the camp and it gives me a little bit of confidence'

Joe Schmidt is on the eve of his final tournament in charge of Ireland.

RATHER UNSURPRISINGLY, JOE Schmidt hasn’t seen a whole lot of Japan during Ireland’s first week and a half in the country.

He’s looked out the windows of their buses and assessed the training facilities they’ve visited, but the vast majority of his time has been spent in the team hotels with his head buried in a laptop.

The crucial last few details that could make a difference – Schmidt has an insatiable desire to give his team any advantage they can get. 

joe-schmidt Joe Schmidt is on the eve of his final tournament as Ireland coach. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The 54-year-old is now in the final months of his time as Ireland head coach and one senses that the passion for winning is even greater than ever as Schmidt looks to guide his team where no Irish side has ever gone before.  

He’s essentially been building up to tomorrow’s game against Scotland in Yokohama for four years, carrying the pain of the 2015 quarter-final defeat to Argentina with him along the way. Now, he’s finally on the eve of Ireland opening their 2019 World Cup campaign and though Schmidt is often tense and tired-looking before games, he struck a calm, quietly confident figure yesterday after naming his matchday 23.

“It feels pretty nerve-wracking but there’s a degree of calm in the camp now,” said Schmidt. “When you get close to these really big games, the players tend to take centre stage and start to lead what’s happening and when we see the players doing that, it builds confidence for the management and the coaches.

“I would never be a particularly confident person but you do take a bit of confidence from that. There will be no shortage of motivation and sometimes you’ve got to temper that a little bit, to make sure you can still be accurate, that you’re not hyper-motivated and that it doesn’t spill over into inaccurate actions.

“I get a pretty good feeling from the camp and it gives me a little bit of confidence but, as I say, I would never be the super-confident type so we’ll see what happens.”

Schmidt says this opener against the Scots is “so different” to four years ago against Canada, with a clash against Romania following in 2015.

This time around, Ireland have just six days until their second game against hosts Japan, who will be fresh from beating Russia 30-10.

“We probably arrived a little bit underdone last time and tried to get an upswing through the pool so there was almost a natural progression, and I felt that we got there,” said Schmidt.

the-ireland-team-huddle Ireland trained at International Stadium Yokohama yesterday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Unfortunately, there was some collateral damage on the way through that made it very difficult beyond that. But this time we definitely have to hit the ground running, this is the equivalent of the French game last time but we’ve got it first up.

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“Therefore, we’ve tried to taper and periodise our upswing a little bit earlier and hopefully there’s been a little bit of evidence that it’s starting to come and we’d love that to be the case in two days’ time.”

Beating the Scots would be a major step towards topping Pool A and if Ireland could deal with the Japanese next weekend, they would have the opportunity to rotate and rest players in the closing pool fixtures against Russia and Samoa.

It has been pointed out that Ireland will have a hugely demanding quarter-final whether they top the pool or not, with South Africa or New Zealand awaiting, but Schmidt is very eager for Ireland to finish first.

“The biggest significance for me is that you get an extra day to prepare [for the quarter-finals],” said Schmidt. “I think people undervalue the difference between a six versus a seven versus an eight-day turnaround.

“I know we’ll have six days and Japan will have eight days and I’m sure Jamie [Joseph] and Tony [Brown] will make really good use of that with the Japanese side.

“We finished the Six Nations with a six-day turnaround and didn’t bounce back into that as well as we should have, so there’s been some good learnings from that and if we go into that quarter, we’d love to get that extra day.”

Matters at hand first, though, as is Ireland’s mantra.

gregor-townsend Gregor Townsend will have Scotland well prepared. Source: Craig Watson/INPHO

Asked what concerns him about Gregor Townsend’s Scotland, Schmidt answered, “Do you want the full list?” 

In short – the breakdown, Scotland’s back row, their “very talented” back three, an “effective” front row, Duncan Taylor’s resurgence in midfield, and their head coach.

“Gregor concerns me,” said Schmidt. “He’s a very astute man. He will set up a couple of things before, along with [forwards coach] Danny Wilson, in the coaching strategy that they put together.

“I think across the board there’s certainly plenty that we will be concerned about and we’ll be proactively trying to solve once we get out on the pitch, and hopefully we can cause a few headaches for them as well.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Yokohama

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