Sunday 29 January 2023 Dublin: 4°C
# clean sweep
Outstanding November tees Ireland up superbly for Schmidt's final year
Wins over Italy, Argentina, the All Blacks and USA leave this Irish squad in an exciting place.

THE NEXT TIME Joe Schmidt gets his hands on his Ireland squad will be for what he calls a “24-hour get-together” before the back-to-back interprovincial clashes on 22 and 29 December.

Thereafter, it’s into the Six Nations for the Ireland boss, Schmidt’s final championship in charge of the team.

The fact that he only gets to work with his players briefly before entering Six Nations mode underlines the importance of the November Tests, during which period Schmidt gets four weeks of face-to-face time with the squad.

Andrew Porter and Garry Ringrose celebrate after the game Bryan Keane / INPHO Andrew Porter and Garry Ringrose celebrate the win over the All Blacks. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

December’s short camp will involve reviewing this past month, “so that we can sign off on it so we get a nice fresh start into the Six Nations,” according to Schmidt, whose post-World Cup exit was confirmed yesterday.

While the Ireland boss will pick out details that can be improved upon in several areas, the bigger picture view on the month should be highly positive.

Ireland recorded their second consecutive clean sweep of the November Tests with wins over Italy, Argentina, the All Blacks and the USA, leaving Schmidt “delighted” with the month’s work.

“Particularly in the context of the number of changes week-to-week that we made,” said Schmidt.

“The most continuity we got was probably from the Argentina to the All Blacks game and that continuity was really important to us because we had a bit of a truncated week leading into Argentina because we got back from Chicago on the Monday morning so it was all a little bit tight and that, therefore, allowed us to springboard from that into the All Blacks preparation.

“It was a bit of a clean sheet this week [against the US]. We said, ‘Right, let’s start from scratch and go again.’

“There were a couple of things out of the All Blacks week, a couple of things out of the Chicago week, where we said, ‘Look, here’s a couple of things we think we can do better and try to build on these’ and at the same time we shuffled the deck again and offered some opportunity.

“The majority of guys really put their hands up and said, ‘We want to keep the pressure on those guys who played last week’ and I think they have, in the main.”

John Ryan and Iain Henderson celebrate after the game Tommy Dickson / INPHO Ireland wrapped up an excellent month with an eight-try win over the US. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

Schmidt could be particularly pleased with how Ireland managed the absence of key man Conor Murray, Kieran Marmion stepping up at scrum-half for the two big Tests against the Pumas and New Zealand, with Luke McGrath making an impact off the bench.

There was a new cap in Sammy Arnold last weekend against the US, while Will Addison showed his value by playing in three positions in his first three caps for Ireland. The Ulster back’s versatility is an interesting proposition moving towards the World Cup.

Ireland exit November in a settled position, but Schmidt is aware that the brutally physical nature of rugby means his squad could be looking rather different even by the time the Six Nations rolls around.

“It’s funny because we get back to together in about 10 weeks’ time and you don’t know where you are going to be,” said Schmidt.

“It’s like that, you could have a few more guys out, potentially a few more guys back.

“Sean O’Brien could be back by then, Chris Farrell is up and running, so is Conor Murray, and it’s going to be really good to track those guys over the next 10 weeks, along with these 43 guys that we have had in camp.”

The November clean sweep brought to an end a remarkable 2018 for Irish rugby, with the Grand Slam followed by a series success in Australia, as well as Ireland being named team of the year at the World Rugby awards, as Schmidt bagged coach of the year and Johnny Sexton was selected as player of the year.

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“It would be pretty hard to top 2018, really,” said Schmidt. “There’s been some monumental wins… you know, that win in Paris if you go back to where the calendar year started, and you don’t get too much more special end-games than that.

Chris Farrell Bryan Keane / INPHO Chris Farrell could come back into the Ireland mix. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

“I think it got people enormously excited, including our squad. Then once you know you’ve done that, you don’t want to waste that. You want to make sure that you capitalise on the back of that and I was delighted with the way that the team did.

“We got a few bonus-point wins that allowed us to be champions by the time the fourth round was over and we went and chased what we needed to do to get the Grand Slam. So that was special.

“Australia was special because we put ourselves behind the eight-ball being one down in the series and came back and won a couple of cliffhangers but both of them were in full stadia – that was something that you hadn’t seen too often in Australia, even when they’re playing the All Blacks.

“So we’ve been able to get quite excited about who we’re playing in front of and no more so than when we play here [in Dublin].

“Three sold-out stadiums and three incredibly encouraging crowds but we were blown away by last week [against the All Blacks]. That’s as special as I’ve heard it in my five-and-a-half year stint with the team.”

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