James Crombie/INPHO

Schmidt demanding Ireland grasp opportunity in biggest game of his career

Playing France with the Championship on the line was a dream scenario in January, now the Kiwi wants to make winning silverware a reality.

WHILE HIS PLAYERS endeavour to treat this Saturday’s Six Nations decider away to France as ‘just another game’ Joe Schmidt admits that the Paris clash will be the biggest game of his coaching career.

Schmidt and his squad travel to the French capital today with a starting line-up showing just one change from the side that dismantled Italy last weekend. Barring an enormous (50 points plus) winning margin for England over Italy in Rome, Ireland will kick-off the last game of the Championship needing a win to claim the title.

“It’s got to be,” Schmidt said when asked if this was his biggest game to date, and the question made him consider the trinkets that already adorn his trophy cabinet.

“I’ve been lucky to be involved in some fantastic games where Ranfurly Shields have been won or the Bouclier de Brennus, the Pro12 trophy or a couple of Heineken Cups; they’ve all been incredibly exciting.

“I think they’d all pale next to a Six Nations trophy. But that trophy is still well away from us – it’s a case of trying to work towards it.”

Schmidt says that there has been a purposeful effort from the coaching team to try and rein in the excitement among the playing squad. Instead, their focus is being honed in on what a rare opportunity this is for an Irish rugby team. Not the chance to take a second win in 42 years of travelling to Paris, but to secure the Championship trophy.

“It’s very much a group motivation. They’ve enjoyed each other’s company, they’ve worked hard for seven or eight weeks and they’ve got an opportunity that not many teams have had in recent history.

“2009, the Grand Slam, was extraordinary. You have to go back a fair way to find an opportunity of winning a Six Nations and having the destiny in your own hands in the final match.”

Joe Schmidt, Paul O'Connell and David O'Siochain James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

As ever, the pragmatic coach insists that the focus will be driven by “a work ethic” at the processes that lead to a result rather than the result itself. And while Schmidt has considered an array of different permutations that may arise depending on the result in Rome, he shrugs them off with ‘that’s not something we control’, before painting an agonising so-close-yet-so-far scenario.

“If we get the result in Paris and England manage to amass a massive points tally and we don’t quite get there, I’d still  be incredibly proud of the team.

“To get four out of five [and lose] we’d be pretty devastated, but there’s a lot of guesswork and a lot of ‘ifs’, ‘buts’ and maybes that go into that sort of thinking, so we’ve tried to denude ourselves of those and focus on what we really need to do.”

He added: “At the same time you’re cautiously optimistic, because you’ve put yourself in a position where you can go to France and win a Six Nations title.

“Seven weeks ago, it’s something you would have dreamed of. Now we’re in that position and we want to make sure that we optimise every opportunity.”

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