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Monday 5 December 2016

Scotland bring Ireland back to earth

Players feeling the heat as deadline day looms

Ireland’s Simon Zebo slips the tackle of Scotland’s Greig Tonks on his way to scoring his side’s third try during Saturday’s match at the Aviva Stadium
Ireland’s Simon Zebo slips the tackle of Scotland’s Greig Tonks on his way to scoring his side’s third try during Saturday’s match at the Aviva Stadium
Luke Fitzgerald crosses for Ireland’s fourth

Ireland took one step forward in Wales and one step sideways in Dublin.

The distinct absence of atmosphere compared to the Cardiff carnival provided a noiseless stage on which players had to show their worth to coach Joe Schmidt.

The problem was Scotland came armed with the searching questions Ireland struggled to answer.

The home side was out of synch and out of their comfort zone for periods as Vern Cotter came to do a job on his old mate.

He wasn't too far away either.

"We conceded three tries in the Six Nations. We conceded three tries last weekend and three tries this week," said Schmidt.

"I thought Scotland played really well. They put the pressure on and we did miss tackles and once they were in behind you, they didn't say 'oh we'll let you off the hook'.

"They really went for us."

Now that Scotland have been dealt with, albeit unconvincingly, Schmidt expects Wales to be a different animal in under two weeks than they were just over two weeks ago.

He expects Warren Gatland's next batch to come "fully loaded and fully freshened" and he intends to meet Wales head-on.

"I think there's some players who haven't played yet who will be playing," he voiced.

Injury

"Mathematically, there must be at least half a dozen of them who are likely to get a hit-out unless they need a hit-out somewhere else because they're coming back from injury.

It remains to be seen whether Andrew Trimble can make it back for the next one.

"But most of them are fully fit and we'll see them, and we'll see a few other guys, who have played in these last two weeks get a hit out as well."

This will surely include Conor Murray, Jonathan Sexton, Robbie Henshaw, Rob Kearney, Marty Moore, Peter O'Mahony and first starts for Rory Best, Dave Kearney and Paul O'Connell.

Even the first guards need the confidence that comes from playing the game. There is no substitute for wearing yourself out in the green jersey.

"I think the players now, as time gets closer, there's a fair bit of anxiety," confessed Schmidt.

"They want to be picked because they know that every opportunity is really important to them.

"I think those guys who haven't played yet will be very keen to get out there.

"They'll be imperfect because they haven't had a hit-out yet, but hopefully we can improve from Wales to England, and then Canada will be right in front of us very quickly."

The week off before Wales come here could be seen as a momentum-stopper or a window in which to recharge batteries.

"I know there is a number of players that first game back in the season they are never going to set the world alight," he offered.

"They need that playing rhythm. They need a couple of sighters and, unfortunately, we don't have a lot of opportunity for them to get those sighters.

"We want to get to the World Cup in as good a shape as possible with the right people, if possible."

Really, Ireland couldn't have laid out their preparations any better with four matches against home nations and two appealing openers in the World Cup against Canada and Romania.

"We've been very lucky to have the quality of opposition we've had and also the proximity of opposition we've had where they've been short trips to get across (the Irish sea).

"To have the opportunity to play last week in the stadium that was full, the roof closed, and we had the same referee that we're going to have in five weeks' time.

"We've been fortuitous as far as that's concerned."

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