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Wednesday 19 September 2018

Schmidt – A lot more to be done

New Ireland coach admits that Ireland were frail in defence and narrow in attack against Aussies

Brian O'Driscoll. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Brian O'Driscoll. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

A GOOD start can be half the battle won; a bad one, half of it lost.

While Ireland climbed back into contention by half-time, the mere fact that they leaked two tries so easily, the first down to Eoin Reddan's rash action, the second to a slip by Robbie Henshaw, gave Australia all the confidence they needed.

Then, Jonathan Sexton did not come out for the second-half due to a hamstring injury that almost certainly rules him out of the New Zealand match. Rob Kearney's rib will test his powers of recovery too.

Joe Schmidt will leave no page in his book of plays unturned in his plan to make his players better and make New Zealand work every minute of the eighty next Sunday.

"There is no more work to be done than I thought," he said.

"I don't think we are in any different place than we were last week which is unfortunate because we want to see a progression week-to-week. That wasn't evident.

"Even at the start of the game, we missed our first touch, then missed our first lineout and didn't quite get the access we were looking for. There was a degree of defensive naivety."

There were small pockets of positivity like the statistic that Ireland actually made more line breaks (8 v 5) than the Australians. They just couldn't get quick ball when they were in behind.

The Australians were cool, composed and somewhat callous in defence of their line, choosing to kill ball rather than defend across the width of the pitch.

"If we did make a line break, the next ruck was inevitably slow. It was hard to get them off the ball, particularly in the 22," reflected Schmidt.

"While those penalties accumulated and resulted in a yellow card it did certainly make it very difficult to play on the front-foot.

"I think we got narrow in our attack. We got static in our attack because they were getting off the line and squeezing us for time and space."

Captain Paul O'Connell's take on the tussle was not to reach for the panic button. There are lessons to be learned, mistakes that almost have to be made before lasting progress can be achieved.

"There's a lot of technical stuff we need to get right. But, you can't lose track of that intensity and that aggression that's required at test rugby," he issued.

"They've probably played a half a season of test match rugby, all against strong, heavy sides that test you every week.

"They probably learned a lot more about themselves in the last few months than we have. You could tell that.

"You read Leinster players for the last few years talking about accuracy in every interview they do. The way we started the game wasn't accurate. That doesn't spread belief through the team."

Australia coach Ewen McKenzie had the look of The A-Team's John 'Hannibal' Smith. He just loves it 'when a plan comes together'.

"We didn't come here with a lot of fanfare. People expected a different outcome but four tries to nil is pretty emphatic," he said.

"That's our best win (against Ireland) since '99, so I enjoyed the fact that we have the capacity to win on the road.

"If you're going to do well in the World Cup, for instance, you've got to win on the road."

McKenzie condensed the overall Wallaby plan into three specific areas of detail to defend the choke tackle, the maul and Ireland's creativity in behind.

"We concentrated on all those elements to make sure we could nullify the strengths in their game," he noted.

McKenzie has had the time and the pressure from the Rugby Championship to blood new ideas and new players into his system. He is that much further down the road than Schmidt.

"You've got a volume of players from different outfits and you can't assume they come in and all of a sudden it happens," he reflected.

"You find middle ground, compromise and you've got to suit the skill sets of the guys you've got. We're getting closer to getting that balance right."

Not so long ago, McKenzie was sitting right where Joe Schmidt is now, taking the bullets and firing back. He preached the value of patience.

"We saw what they did at the end of the Six Nations. We saw their outing against Samoa. But, they've only been together briefly in the current regime.

"We know ourselves it is hard to put a lot together in a short space of time. There was a fear but we did our homework and got a pretty good outcome."

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