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Saturday 3 December 2016

Ireland need Joe to stay at helm

The IRFU have to convince Ireland coach to lead team into 2019 RWC

Ireland’s Stuart McCloskey in action against England at Twickenham on his Six Nations debut. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland’s Stuart McCloskey in action against England at Twickenham on his Six Nations debut. Photo: Sportsfile
Conor Murray goes over to score a try for Ireland during the Six Nations match at Twickenham. Photo: Sportsfile

The most imminent concern for the IRFU should not be the next three weeks, but the next three years.

They have to find a way to convince their coach Joe Schmidt to extend his contract out to cover the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

It is imperative Ireland make the most of every advantage they have in a fine margin game. And the coach is their biggest.

The last thing Irish rugby needs is to lose Schmidt in the summer of 2017, effectively in mid-cycle, when the New Zealander should be getting the very best out of the players coming through the system.

Ireland were left bruised, battered, but unbowed by an England that will improve game-on-game, never mind year-on-year, under the experiencedinstruction of Eddie Jones.

The fact is there was little more Ireland could have done to prevent the pall of defeat on Saturday.

They strained every sinew without Sean O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony, Jared Payne and, maybe most significantly, the forgotten man, Iain Henderson.

Moved on

The introduction of Ultan Dillane showed how the game has moved on, just as one Paul O'Connell has left the stage.

The new age super-athlete, like Joe Launchbury and Mario Itoje, can be matched by the likes of Henderson, Dillane and our newest super-hero , Ireland Under-20 captain James Ryan, in the next three years.

But, critically, they need to be phased into a tried and trusted system that the coach can tweak for every occasion. This transition period is about evolution, not revolution.

Schmidt will not move too far away from his carefully, intelligently thought out progression of Ireland, all based on what his foot soldiers can do.

The simple truth is the northern hemisphere skills set is not where it needs to be to put in place the ball movement needed to turn England's power into a weakness.

So you've got to match them for muscle and athleticism and overtake them with creativity and execution.

The championship will come down to England and Wales, two countries more the same than they are different.

Ireland played with complete commitment to the game plan at Twickenham, showing uncommon courage to hang onto Billy Vunipola and his hard travelling band of brothers as England did a passable impression of a runaway train in the first-half.

"I think they showed some real character, particularly in that first-half defending," reflected Schmidt.

"I though we showed some real enterprise to create some super line breaks that we've got to be better at converting."

In many ways, the theme of this Six Nations has been the chances created and not taken by Ireland.

"While that might be a bit of a broken record, the more experience these guys build, he more likely we are to get that at the back of things."

Schmidt has certainly not lost belief in what he is doing.

Faith

"The only thing I'd say is don't lose faith that we won't keep building," said Schmidt.

"Hopefully, that will be sufficient to get people enthusiastic about what we have to do in the next two games."

Sadly, Ireland will take a fortnight break before facing into the relatively unappealing back-to-back tests against Scotland and Italy.

"There are some positives for us and we need to build over the next two weeks towards that because it's an incredibly proud group."

Despite this, the perfectionist always embedded in Schmidt couldn't fail to look back in regret at the second half and how close Robbie Henshaw came to the corner flag or how Josh van der Flier could not convince the officials he got the ball down.

"You're a whisker away when the ball slips out of your grasp," he said.

"You're a whisker away when you don't quite get a decision when you've gone over the line."

The cold, hard reality is that Ireland have lost two out of three and drawn the third to sit second-from bottom in the Six Nations.

"To be honest, it's really tough at the moment for players who take so much pride and make such a big effort to try and do the best they can that we're not quite getting the result.

"But I don't seriously feel that we're a million miles away.

"I'm positive by nature. I think we tried to play positively. We demonstrated that by the enterprise we showed.

"We're going to keep trying to do that."

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