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'It will be hard to say goodbye': Schmidt's final Six Nations game in Dublin

The Ireland head coach is ready for his last competitive game in charge at the Aviva Stadium.

JOE SCHMIDT RARELY lets emotion cloud his thinking, or compromise his unwavering focus, but the added significance of Sunday’s Six Nations game against France on a personal level is not lost on the Ireland head coach.  

After six championships in charge, this weekend’s rendezvous with Les Bleus at the Aviva Stadium will be his last home Six Nations game and indeed the final competitive game in Dublin of his distinguished tenure. 

Ireland are due to face Italy and Wales in World Cup warm-up fixtures at Lansdowne Road this summer, but Schmidt — whose six-year reign ends after the global tournament — admits there will be a tinge of emotion for him and his family this Sunday.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt speaking at Carton House this afternoon. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I briefly mentioned it to my wife yesterday when I called in at home and it will be hard to say goodbye to it,” Schmidt said.

“We’ve had some great days and occasions in the Aviva and it would be great if this was another.

“Players play under those circumstances all the time. You never know when your next cap is coming and coaches are probably like that as well.

“You could be chopped at any time. It’s about the players this week. They take control and put the performance together. We are going to move on. These are things you will miss for sure.”

Under Schmidt’s watch, Ireland have won 12 of their 14 Six Nations games played at the Aviva Stadium, but their last performance in Dublin, against England, is not an experience he or the players will want to relive again in round four. 

In turning to the tried and trusted for the visit of France, Schmidt has named a strong team to face Jacques Brunel’s charges, the likes of Rory Best, Cian Healy, CJ Stander and Garry Ringrose all back to boost Ireland for the penultimate round of action. 

After three off-colour performances, pockmarked by uncharacteristic mistakes and lineout malfunctions, Ireland are desperate to return to the form which saw them enjoy unprecedented success in 2018.

“Probably, the All Blacks are the only team who consistently stay at the top,” Schmidt said, when asked if his side were burdened by what they achieved last season.

“You consider England, Six Nations Grand Slam, they get the Six Nations the following year, and the year after that they are fifth.

“How does that happen with most of the same personnel? It is one of those things that it is a little bit difficult. I know even talking to Franck Azema in Clermont, champions one year and 10th the next. How does that happen?

“It’s not apathy, it’s not overconfidence, I’m not sure how you might explain it. But there’s a real forward-thinking about the group.

“So what’s happened last year is certainly last year, because last year’s results don’t help you win anything this year.

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Peter O'Mahony Peter O'Mahony is ready to go this weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“In fact, if anything, I think Steve [Hansen, All Blacks coach] is suggesting it hinders you winning things this year. It certainly puts a target on you. 

“There’s no way that people come here and don’t want to beat a team that’s ranked where we are or a team that achieved what we did last year.

“But for us, it’s all about what we can achieve. And not even this year, it’s what we can achieve in just over 48 hours’ time.”

Peter O’Mahony, who wins his 56th cap in the Ireland back row alongside Josh van der Flier and the fit-again Stander, knows the importance of a big performance and says the players are intent on delivering in front of a home crowd.

“Every time we come out against any team at the Aviva, it’s our home, it’s a place we want to set our tone in,” the Munster captain added.

It doesn’t matter who’s there, we always pride ourselves on our home performances and obviously the last one we didn’t get the result or performance we wanted.

“It’s up to us to get ourselves right, we’ve had a great training week, I’ve really enjoyed the last few days training. We’ve got some good detail done, but we’ve got some good hard work done as well. We know better than anyone that a week’s preparation is a huge step forward to getting that physical performance in at the weekend.

“We’re a competitive side, we enjoy the game because we love to do what we do. We want to win, we’re a competitive bunch of people.

“We’ve had a taste last year of what we can do, we haven’t been overly happy with what we’ve done over the last three games but the 23 have the chance to perform at the weekend.

“They know how important it is to put in a performance, not just for ourselves but for a few other people important to us as well.”

Andy Dunne joins Murray Kinsella and Ryan Bailey to discuss Joe Schmidt’s undroppables and how France might attack Ireland’s predictability in The42 Rugby Weekly.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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