go cubs go

Schmidt has no time for omens as Ireland line up All Blacks in Chicago

‘They are second to none in their ability to add scores very quickly.’

Murray Kinsella reports from Chicago

IT’S NOT MUCH of a surprise that Joe Schmidt doesn’t have time for omens.

Famed as a man who prepares his teams to a world-class standard, you could have confidently predicted that the Kiwi doesn’t believe that some intangible force can have an effect on events on the pitch.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt isn't reading too much into events so far this week in Chicago. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

So while Schmidt might have smiled at the celebrations after the Chicago Cubs ended their 108-year run without a World Series title, he won’t be taking any confidence from the achievement before tomorrow, when Ireland look to end their 111-year streak without a win against New Zealand.

“Gee, I’d love to believe in omens, but I don’t,” said Schmidt yesterday. “I’m not superstitious at all.

“1908 is pretty similar to 1905 but I think the similarities pretty much stop there. If we played them [the All Blacks] at baseball, I think they’re pretty good at baseball as well.

I know their high performance manager, Don Tricker, was the New Zealand softball coach and highly successful, coaching them to world championships. So they’ve probably even done a bit of that and are pretty good at it!

“I think we’ll just try to play rugby against them and I think whatever happens, as a group we’re looking forward to what we can learn from the game and how we can build from the game as a result of the effort we put in, the learnings we take and hopefully for the next three weeks we can see some evidence of that.

“And certainly into the Six Nations we would like to get back into the top end of that, certainly into that top two.”

There’s plenty in this Schmidt answer; a touch of humour, a typically detailed piece of obscure knowledge, and a statement of ambition – all of it in the light of Ireland’s continual drive to be a better rugby team.

Schmidt has likely been obsessing over the All Blacks in recent months and weeks, with the their 10 Tests this year providing him with plenty of raw material from which to pick out potential weaknesses.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt leads Ireland's training session at University of Illinois yesterday. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“They’re pretty hard to find,” says Schmidt. “I think one of the things that’s been difficult is that we didn’t know what the make-up of their team was going to be, so we’ve been kind of waiting until we had a bit of a look at that.

“And then we’ll try to maybe engineer a few things from there.”

Defenders on the fringes of midfield rucks might have been examined closely, this being one of the few areas where opposition teams have opened the All Blacks up this year.

Currently on an 18-game winning streak and having scored tries freely in 2016, this All Blacks side has been lauded as perhaps the best of all time.

“I just think they’re a super side,” says Schmidt. “I wouldn’t be great at making assessments from different generations or even the recent past.

“I’d have to say I’ve got incredible respect for the likes of Dan Carter and Richie McCaw, who aren’t with them now, but even the last time we played them [in 2013], when Israel Dagg went off and Beauden Barrett came on, I thought he was a little bit of a game-changer for them playing at fullback.

“So you haven’t got Dan Carter but you’ve got Beauden Barrett, and Aaron Cruden was super against us last time as well.

“They just have that ability to add that shock value with new players coming in. I was a spectator watching in Auckland five years ago when Ireland were relatively well beaten at Eden Park but then went to Christchurch and almost beat the All Blacks.

“Then the All Blacks had a few injuries and it looked like a fantastic opportunity for Ireland and 60-0 later guys announce themselves on the international stage, the likes of Cruden with a freakish offload to Sonny Bill Williams running a close line off him early in the game and that just continued in that vain.”

When asked if 2013′s heartbreak is relevant to this fixture, Schmidt was straight to the point with a response of “not really.”

A view of training Ireland feel they are mentally in a good place. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“I just think that every day is a new challenge,” he continued. “And you mentioned the Cubs; people wrote the Cubs off at 3-1 down and they were going to Cleveland for the last three games and they picked them up and got the result.”

Schmidt understands that if Ireland are going to be the team to finally beat this All Blacks crop, they will need to reach a peak of their own, going to a place they haven’t been in some time.

There were the potential distractions of the Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding case, as well as the sheer hysteria around Chicago – the Cubs are set to shut the city down with a victory parade this afternoon – but Schmidt feels the focus is in a good place.

We trained pretty well this morning,” said Schmidt. The players know if they’re not focused, the All Blacks’ ability to run up scores in the space of 10 minutes – 10 minutes can be 20-plus points. We’ve seen it.

“We’ve seen Argentina go really hard at them for 30 minutes and in the 10 minutes before half time suddenly it’s game over at half time. That’s the nature of the beast when you’re playing the All Blacks.

“They are second to none in their ability to add scores very quickly. So I think the players are feeling that pressure to make sure that they are as well attuned as they possibly can be on the back of training on Monday and Thursday.

“So in terms of getting some cohesion, there will be times that potentially we’ll lack. If that happens often, then we’re going to have to be really good to try to stop them getting right away on us.”

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