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Schmidt lays down 'challenge' to Ireland players to ensure strong start

The Kiwi is backing Donnacha Ryan’s line-out nous to shore up the set-piece.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

IRELAND HEAD COACH Joe Schmidt says he has challenged his players to hit the ground running in Rome after their sluggish opening against Scotland proved so costly.

Schmidt’s men shipped three tries in a porous opening 30 minutes in Murrayfield and despite rallying to lead in the second half, the defeat has left them playing catch-up in the Six Nations.

After naming his starting line-up for the Championship’s second round, Schmidt was asked about the importance of starting well this time around.

“I have challenged them to do that,” said the Kiwi before once again alluding to the issue of the delayed bus in Edinburgh,

“It was incredibly disappointing the way we started last weekend. I don’t think it was apathy, a bit of anxiety at not having the full period to warm up. Players get anxious – they’re very routine based and I do think it’s a challenge for a professional player to be adaptable in different circumstances that they can still cope and still start well.

“We were really disappointed with the way we started. They scored three tries in the first 30 minutes. They didn’t score another try after that. I think that reflects what the team is capable of.

Conor Murray and Joe Schmidt Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Unfortunately (after a poor opening) then you’re chasing things. We’re certainly given them that challenge this week and hopefully we see a better start.”

Key to ensuring a solid foundation is the selection of Donnacha Ryan to the second row. The lock is one of just two changes to the side, replacing the hamstrung Iain Henderson while Schmidt says that he had always planned to rotate Cian Healy and Jack McGrath at loosehead. The head coach is backing the presence of Ryan to be a boost to the set-piece equation.

Donnacha Ryan Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Donnacha is a pretty good line-out operator. He’s a real technician in that area and a tactician. He will add a bit of value at line-out time and he’s got a great work-rate. Those two things we feel we’re going to need this weekend.”

Schmidt expects Henderson, along with Andrew Trimble, Jonathan Sexton and Peter O’Mahony to be fully fit in good time for the meeting with France at the Aviva Stadium in two weeks’ time. And Tommy Bowe will also hope to play his way into contention after Craig Gilroy – the only other change to the squad – took over the number 23 jersey.

“Tommy was unlucky coming on,” insisted the Kiwi, “he had to deal with an overlap that we should have done better to shut down further in and therefore over-reached in the tackle. He took a great line at one stage and Josh (van der Flier) took his space. Tommy will hopefully get a bit of time with Ulster (in their Pro12 match) and that will better prepare him.”

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Sean Farrell

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