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'It would be nice to tick it off' - Schmidt's Ireland out to end pain in Cardiff

The Ireland boss has yet to beat the Welsh in a Six Nations game at Principality Stadium.

IT’S FAIR TO say that the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, formerly known as the Millennium Stadium, hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds for Joe Schmidt in his time with Ireland.

Ireland have lost both of their Six Nations games against Wales in the city centre venue since Schmidt took over in 2013, coming up short on a 23-16 scoreline in 2015 and then being beaten 22-9 two years ago.

Jonathan Sexton dejected Ireland were beaten in Cardiff in 2017. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There was a victory over the Welsh in Cardiff in a 2015 World Cup warm-up game, but that friendly fixture certainly won’t be among Schmidt’s fond memories when he departs the Ireland job later this year. 

In fact, perhaps Schmidt’s most painful day as Ireland boss came at the Principality Stadium, where Ireland exited the 2015 World Cup at the hands of Argentina. 

So, as Schmidt faces into his final Six Nations game as Ireland head coach, it feels like he has unfinished business to account for on Saturday against Warren Gatland’s side in Cardiff.

‘Yeah, it would be nice to tick it off,” said Schmidt. “It’s not so much the venue, I know that the home crowd get right behind the Welsh team there. I also know that we’ll have lots of travelling support and that they’ll be very vocal so we look forward to getting that support.

“I know last year that we kind of had a performance that was very up and down against Wales [in Dublin]. When it was up, I thought it was super and when it was down they get some tries that were frustrating and were well earned by them but it was frustrating in that we didn’t cut them off.”

The Welsh, of course, are bidding for a Grand Slam on Saturday in Cardiff, where the atmosphere is guaranteed to be wild. 

Among the positive omens ahead of this game is the fact that Ireland have never lost the final game of a Six Nations under Schmidt, tending to finish their campaigns strongly.

And there is real belief in the squad that the same will apply again on Saturday after Ireland’s comprehensive performance against France last weekend, even if the closing minutes were frustrating.

Joe Schmidt before the game Schmidt is set for his final Six Nations game as Ireland boss. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“That was certainly our most dominant first 40, probably 50, minutes until Keith [Earls] got the try, even though I know there were some missed opportunities. Some of them were incredibly narrow – Cian [Healy] and Garry [Ringrose] particularly – but at the same time, the fact that as soon as they got a little bit of breathing space, they were back under real pressure.

“To do that is pretty difficult when you’re playing the quality of player they have so that was certainly right up there in terms of Six Nations games that we’ve played here.

“I don’t think 50 minutes will win in Cardiff, full stop. I think you’ve got to put 80 minutes together in Cardiff. We have to extend that high-performance period right through the game.”

While it seems highly unlikely that England will lose to Scotland on Saturday, which would open the door for Ireland to win the championship, a victory in Cardiff would see Schmidt’s men finish second in the table – handing England the title if they beat Scotland.

It would be a fine return for Ireland given that the World Cup is the clear priority this year, and given that Schmidt – due to injuries and a few selection decisions – has been able to test his squad’s depth a little further in recent weeks.

“It’s never where you want it to be, you always want to have more depth,” said Schmidt.  “One of the things I said on Thursday was, you have to take three hookers to the World Cup.

“You have to have four hookers. As soon as you have four and one gets injured, you are already one short. You want to actually have five hookers, three tighthead props and three loosehead props.   

“You want to make sure you are, at least, double injury covered. At the start of the Championship, we picked five second rows and one we didn’t pick [Quinn Roux] started and called the lineout in two of the first three games. 

“That’s how quickly it can spin. Therefore, you’d always like to have a little more than you’ve got. We’d like to have a few more points in the championship than we’ve got. 

“I wouldn’t say I’m greedy, but you can’t be successful if you’re not greedy for that depth and those points. Hopefully, we can go and get some points this week. But we know how tough it is going to be.”

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Murray Kinsella

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