Friday 3 February 2023 Dublin: 11°C
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Schmidt puts paid to 'flawed theory' that late O'Mahony inclusion was tactical
The Ireland head coach confirmed a hamstring injury for Jamie Heaslip.

WHEN WORD FILTERED around the Aviva Stadium that Jamie Heaslip was a late withdrawal for Ireland, the Ireland camp told us that the number eight had rolled his ankle during the warm-up.

Immediately post-match, Joe Schmidt informed RTÉ that Heaslip had suffered a hamstring injury, so the theories kicked off.

Joe Schmidt Billy Stickland / INPHO Schmidt was the winning coach at the Aviva. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

A tactical masterstroke from Schmidt, some suggested. The Ireland head coach catching Eddie Jones completely off guard with his back row selection and, quite literally, springing Peter O’Mahony against the English lineout.

Such was O’Mahony’s effect on the game, it did appear that England were completely taken off guard.

The Munster captain claimed the five-metre lineout that allowed Ireland to maul for Iain Henderson’s try, while O’Mahony also stole the English lineout in the 74th minute – as pivotal a moment as any in this tie. There were many other brilliant contributions.

“It couldn’t be a more flawed theory,” said Schmidt when asked about the speculation at the post-match press conference at the Aviva Stadium. “It’s probably a bit of a slight on us, to be honest, because it’s not something we do.

“We pick our team and we go out there, prepare them as best we can and they go out and play. It was a disruption, if anything, for us.

“Dan Leavy got a heck of a shock when I said, ‘Dan, you need to grab that jersey off Pete. Pete, you grab that off CJ. CJ, you grab that off Jamie, because Jamie has just pulled his upper hamstring and is unable to play.

“Jamie was doing the warm-up and it was very late in the warm-up when he suddenly stepped aside and the doc tested him inside probably five minutes before kick-off.”

So, the question is whether Schmidt should have started O’Mahony in the first place, given his lineout prowess and all-round quality.

“Jamie is one of our ‘go-to’s in the lineout as well,” said Schmidt. “Jamie does tend to play with a bit more width for us, within a certain system, and we played with a fair bit of width in the first 20 minutes, so it suits whatever happens.

“Part of the challenge for a guy like Pete is to step up and fill the void. Players are different. Some players are more explosive, some carry the ball better, some defend better, others are more athletic in the air.

Peter O'Mahony with Billy Vunipola Billy Stickland / INPHO O'Mahony was sensational for Ireland. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“Pete did a great job for us in the air tonight, but at the same time Donnacha Ryan and Iain Henderson did a great job calling those lineouts. CJ Stander got a couple of great takes as well, so it tends to be shared across the board.

“Pete’s vertical leap is impressive and his ability to get in the air quickly is always an advantage.”

Eddie Jones’ view on the late Irish change and how it affected things for England?

“Slightly in terms of the lineout, although you wouldn’t have known,” said Jones. “Not really.”

Jones was full of the jokes, in fairness to him.

“O’Mahony is a fantastic player and those conditions probably suited him better than Heaslip, who is probably more a top of the ground type player,” continued Jones.

Schmidt was more interested in lauding his team’s collective effort in this absorbing Six Nations finale, as his men ended England’s hopes of a second consecutive Grand Slam and their 19th Test victory in a row.

“It’s a myriad of things,” said Schmidt when asked what gave him most pride. “The situation we were in and what was called for to be delivered.

“We probably share in a couple of records now, not ones we’ve necessarily earned, but ones that we’ve been involved in. To get second in the championship, I mentioned last week, is something that would have been incredibly important to us.

“To get that is really important and then the actual performance itself.”

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Schmidt cited Ireland’s strong opening quarter, their width in attack in difficult weather conditions, and how his team “went out and played,” as he feels they have been doing throughout this championship, sometimes without the results they have craved.

Jonathan Sexton celebrates winning Dan Sheridan / INPHO Sexton took some bruising treatment from England. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

He also paid tribute to England’s Six Nations success, and expressed envy at not being the team to collect the trophy on the podium at the Aviva Stadium, where Dylan Hartley was booed as he headed up for his medal.

Schmidt was also keen to highlight the impact of Ireland’s less experienced players, with the likes of Kieran Marmion, Andrew Conway, Luke McGrath, Niall Scannell, Garry Ringrose and Dan Leavy all making their impact felt.

“A lot of people said before the game, ‘Oh, you’re missing this key player’ and I said, ‘Well, what an opportunity for this player,’” said Schmidt. ”I don’t think they let us down.”

As for the English treatment of Johnny Sexton – who took huge punishment after passing and kicking – Schmidt said it’s likely that Ireland will point out a number of those incidents in their report for the match officials.

“We’ll be reflective and look through the game, and we will reference a few things. I think there probably are a few things. There were a few things we referenced from last week [against Wales], a few neck rolls.”

Schmidt confirmed that Keith Earls suffered bone bruising to his shin, while Heaslip will have further tests on his hamstring in the coming days to ascertain the severity of that injury.

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Ireland’s composure, O’Mahony’s brilliance and Dublin heart

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