Confidence in Ireland squad kept in check by Schmidt's 'motivational fear'

Sean Cronin isn’t going to argue against the notion that Joe Schmidt is the best coach in the game right now.

Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

WITH ANY LUCK, nobody will remember Sean Cronin’s try against Scotland as an important moment in this Championship.

It was crucial though, tournament-deciding, as noteworthy as Jamie Heaslip’s last-ditch tackle on Stuart Hogg in 2015. Yet if all goes according to plan this weekend, the try that sealed the title will be forgotten, replaced by whatever Grand Slam drama Twickenham has yet to deliver.

“It’s been building up that it was a 25-metre run in and I beat three defenders,” the hooker joked in Carton House today.

Such stretching of the truth isn’t needed in this Ireland camp. Confidence is high, perhaps at its highest since Joe Schmidt took charge. Or at least since those ecstatic two weeks in between contrasting clashes with the All Blacks in November 2016.

While we all question the Kiwi’s calls and methods from time and time, a third title in five years leaves little room to question the results he delivers. With a third medal soon to be nestling in his back pocket, Cronin was asked flat out today if he is working under the best coach in the world.

“Sure I’m gonna have to say (he is),” Cronin joked, conscious of the live mics and TV cameras rolling.

Sean Cronin Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Yeah, he is the best coach in the world. His results speak for themselves, three Championships in five years is incredible. He has a great support staff behind him and he’s top quality.

“I’ve been involved with Joe for a long time, and when you do make a mistake during a game, you’re already thinking about the review on Monday.

Not many coaches can put that kind of motivational fear into you.”

Cronin has grown well accustomed to Schmidt’s techniques, of course. When he moved from Connacht to Leinster in 2011, Schmidt had already put a Heineken Cup in the trophy cabinet. Standards were high, and Cronin quickly learned he had to rapidly adapt.

“When I moved, after the first couple of games, I was sitting back thinking I have to get up to speed here otherwise I’m not going to last very long.”

“He’s obviously top quality. Over the years, we’ve been through things and results that are of the highest quality.

Joe Schmidt Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We have confidence as players, whether in attack, defence or set-piece, we’re very confident to buy into the plan the coaches give us.

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“You’ve got to have the coaches and the players driving it, though. Having that collective buy-in where everyone is ready to go so that everything’s flowing properly for the game on Saturday.”

Part of that buy-in, from Cronin’s perspective, is fully engaging with his impact role. Between captaincy and his excellence at the breakdown, Rory Best has locked down the starting hooker berth, but Cronin’s title-sealing try capped what was a terrific collective bench performance. The kind of snowballing cohesion that has been lacking in the late shaky stages in three of Ireland’s last five victories.

More of the same will be required in Twickenham. Test matches in London are rarely settled before the closing minutes, let-alone Grand Slam matches.

“Jordi Murphy had a super cameo, Hendy and (Andrew) Porter as well. It could only be 10 minutes but they’re the pressure moments of the game.

“You need to be ready for the pressure moments of the game.”

Schmidt’s demands are made for exactly those occasions.

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Sean Farrell

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