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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Schmidt: We have poked the bear

Ireland 52 Canada 21 Dillane and Earls state cases for All Blacks role

Ultan Dillane is tackled by Evan Olmstead of Canada during the Autumn International match at the Aviva Stadium Pics: Sportsfile
Ultan Dillane is tackled by Evan Olmstead of Canada during the Autumn International match at the Aviva Stadium Pics: Sportsfile

Joe Schmidt is wary of being bitten by a wounded animal with the sharpest teeth.

The men in black will be on an ominous mission in Dublin next Saturday, working in the dark shadow of what happened in Chicago.

"I think we've poked the bear," stated Schmidt

"I've no doubt that they will come out mentally.

"I don't think they will be any more aggressive than they normally are."

There is a theory out there in the ether that Ireland are 'one-off' wonders.

This is not true. It couldn't be. The 2014 and 2015 Six Nations would not have been grasped were it so.

It is more accurate to state they have been so against South Africa and New Zealand.

They did more than that in South Africa in the summer.

It still wasn't enough.

The rub of the green was more an itch they couldn't quite scratch from the memory.

What happened in South Africa has not haunted Schmidt the same way New Zealand did in 2013.

"You guys knew that within the group we had real frustration coming off that South African tour because we felt that we had missed an opportunity.

"In a Test match, you're 26-10 up in Ellis Park you're not going to get too many chances like that in your life.

"In Port Elizabeth again we got to the lead and we weren't far away at the end of the game.

"I felt we probably didn't get a few decisions that day that were fairly pivotal, but those sort of things happen and you've got to get above that.

"It was no different the last time we played the All Blacks here."

It is often trotted out about New Zealand that you beat them once, but not twice.

This could be enhanced by the inclusion of their first choice second rows Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock.

"I just think they'll be sharper and, to be honest, there were probably a couple of times at 33-29 (in Chicago) where they put balls down when we were in trouble.

"Games swing on those and, so, while we got our nose in front, the scoreline was a lot closer and I think anyone there would have known that.

"Certainly with 10 minutes to go, even 20 minutes to go, they had enough time to get in front of us.

"Half of it was probably us working really hard not to let them, but half of it was they probably slipped a couple of things that is uncustomary for them.

"I've no doubt that they'll work on those things through the week. If everything they do sticks we'll find them very, very hard to contain."

Struggled

When asked where Ireland can improve from the 40-29 eclipse of New Zealand, Schmidt struggled for an answer.

"To put five tries on the All Blacks, what can you do better offensively?" he countered.

"It's kind of quite hard because I think they'd had five or six tries scored against them in the whole Rugby Championship, by South Africa, Australia and Argentina - three teams that are recognisable as having real threats across the board.

"We're just going to have to try to make sure that what we do is as accurate as it can be because you've got to get as close to the perfect performance as you can to compete with them."

The main question for Schmidt is which of Peter O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien and Josh van der Flier will step up for Jordi Murphy.

The return of Retallick and Whitelock would make O'Mahony a heavy favourite for his lineout skills with Van der Flier set for bench again. Ultan Dillane could not have done any more to press his case to displace Donnacha Ryan.

Paddy Jackson did not convince at fly-half, Joey Carbery looking more polished in his cameo.

Yet it would be a shock were the proven Ulsterman not restored to the first 23.

There is also the possibility Keith Earls could come onto the bench, although the wing did receive medical attention more than once against Canada.

In fairness, Garry Ringrose did more than hold his own, growing into the game with every minute.

These All Blacks have been subject to being the first from their country to break against Ireland.

Now, Ireland have to show it was not an oasis of ecstasy in a historical desert of devastation.

"We would love to back it up," said Ireland's coach.

"We are looking forward and we just want to make sure whatever we put together for next week gives us the best chance possible of trying to back up what we did in Chicago."

Now, Ireland have set the standard against which all other matches will be matched. Or, have they?

"I think you've always got to be better," stated Schmidt.

"Watching them in the Rugby Championship, it was a daunting enough task. They were phenomenal.

"Even in our game, at one stage, they got 14 points in four minutes.

"You switch off for incredibly small windows and they put a hole in you so quickly.

"To be honest, we've only matched up to them twice in my three years.

"We'd hate to drop our standard of being really competitive with them in those two fixtures."

That will take all of Ireland's everything.

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