Joe Schmidt: 'We don't feel that we're too far away'

The Ireland head coach is aiming to rally his troops this week after Saturday’s disappointment in Paris.

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt.
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

JOE SCHMIDT INSISTS that his players will “roll their sleeves up” this week as they look to secure their first win of the 2016 Six Nations campaign.

Following a draw against Wales in Dublin on the opening weekend and a narrow defeat to France in Paris on Saturday, Ireland’s bid to win a third consecutive championship has gotten off to an inauspicious start.

Their next assignment is a meeting with England — who are now the tournament favourites on the back of wins against Scotland and Italy — a week on Saturday at Twickenham.

Reflecting on Saturday’s attritional encounter at the Stade de France — which took its toll, as key players like Sean O’Brien and Johnny Sexton picked up injuries – Schmidt told Irish Rugby TV today that disappointment and frustration are the overriding emotions.

“When you lose a little bit of leadership, sometimes you’ve just got to find a way. We did get over and score at one stage but it was a little bit fortuitous and obviously it didn’t count for anything in the end,” said the Ireland head coach.

“I just felt that we didn’t convert some of the pressure that we put on them into points and that’s what you’ve got to do, especially against a pretty well-organised defensive side. I thought France defended really well. Tough conditions to attack, the ball was very, very slippery. It was greasy on top and it did make it quite difficult.

“But I don’t think the players would see any excuses, with the field positions they had and not quite getting over the line. There’s a fair bit of disappointment, a fair bit of frustration.”

Maxime Médard scores his sides first try France's Maxime Médard scores the all-important try against Ireland. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Schmidt will give his players this weekend off, although “about half of the squad” will be released to their provinces to line out in the Guinness Pro12. Then it’s full steam ahead for the game against England next week.

A hamstring injury has ruled Sean O’Brien out of the trip to Twickenham, it was confirmed this afternoon, and there are question marks over the availability of Johnny Sexton, Dave Kearney, Jared Payne and Mike McCarthy, although front-row duo Mike Ross and Cian Healy should be back in contention.

England ran in five tries against Italy in Rome yesterday, having started their campaign with an unconvincing away win against Scotland eight days earlier.

Assessing the challenge Ireland will face in London, Schmidt said: “They’re unfortunately getting a little more rhythm as time goes on. They probably deserved the result against Scotland but it could have gone either way. Scotland probably rue a missed chance or two that they had. At the same time, England were pretty good for their win.

“They took a while to get on top of the Italians but we know what that’s like. They’re very tough to knock over and they’re very combative around the fringes and their defensive work. And they carried really well, I thought, the Italians.

But the English slowly but surely built more and more tempo, and as they built more tempo, the Italians looked more and more ragged. That’s not great for us looking ahead to England, particularly with a few more men down, but the one thing I would say is that the players are working really hard; we don’t feel that we’re too far away.

“A draw and a one-point loss, it doesn’t reflect great on the championship table but it probably reflects pretty well on the character of the players that are stepping into the breach and, I think, doing a really good job.

“They’re going to roll their sleeves up on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to do some preparatory stuff and, as I said, hopefully we can charge into that England week and chase a better result in Twickenham.”

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Paul Dollery

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