Saturday 23 March 2019

Schmidt has to stay ahead of the game

Ringrose is Schmidt's only real option to replace Farrell

Back in blue: Garry Ringrose in action for Leinster during the Guinness PRO14 match against Southern Kings at the RDS last weekend
Back in blue: Garry Ringrose in action for Leinster during the Guinness PRO14 match against Southern Kings at the RDS last weekend

You just have to take a glance at the many internet platforms to witness the all-knowing opinions of the 'bar stool ballers' out there.

When it comes to Ireland, Joe Schmidt has played his hand with the calculation of a card shark.

Most recently, the cap handed to Andrew Porter couldn't have been worn better in what is the most physically demanding position in the game.

Ireland are three-from-three and need two-from-two to complete their third Grand Slam in 135 years from the Four Nations (1883-1909 and 1932-1939), Five Nations (1910-1931 and 1940-1999) and Six Nations (2000-).

It must seem like a strange concept to Schmidt that winning the Six Nations always sits in the shadow of the Grand Slam.

Ruled out: Ireland’s Chris Farrell tackling Scott Williams of Wales
Ruled out: Ireland’s Chris Farrell tackling Scott Williams of Wales

"The Grand Slam is super special, especially here," said Schmidt on Tuesday. "In 2009, I witnessed that from a distance. I was living in Clermont but I saw how people reacted, what it meant to people.

"When you've only had two of them, people talk about it because what's rare is beautiful.


"You want it to happen."

Should Ireland take five points out of Scotland - no small feat - it would mean England would have to take five away from Stade de France.

It is entirely possible, not probable, Ireland could have the Championship secured before they travel to Twickenham.

"For us, it would be really special if we managed to get three Championships in five years," said Schmidt.

"That would be an incredible representation of the consistency at the very top level."

No matter how Ireland have come through against France, Italy and Wales, the game plan has been spot-on every time.

For all of the brilliance of the coaches, there comes a time when the players take ownership. This is why Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray are so indispensable to what Ireland do.

It is why Schmidt waited to the last minute for Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson.

For Ireland to stay ahead at the end of the games, the coaches have decisions to make and the players have changes to make.


For all of the understandable plaudits sent Sexton's way for his passing, defence and decision-making, bar that quick tap penalty, against Wales, Ireland cannot afford to let Scotland off the hook.

The uncharacteristic goal-kicking lapse could have cost Ireland, were they not so supremely dominant for long periods of the game.

The kicks were missed to the right of the sticks in what should be a minor technical tweak.

Unless, of course, the imperfect connections had something to do with the back treatment Sexton received at the Captain's Run last Friday.

Then, there was the fact the out-half wasn't at the session at Lansdowne Road.

This does not bode well for Sexton's fitness and the last thing he needs is to deal with is a concern that could hinder his goal-kicking.


This is the easiest decision to make. Garry Ringrose will return to the outside centre channel where the unfortunate Chris Farrell was man of the match against Wales.

The cruelty of the game was illustrated in how Farrell's twist of the knee turned into a twist of fate.

He must have plummeted from the high of his best rugby moment to the low of his worst.

The shirt passes back to Ringrose, a previous owner, in what is a matter of emergency.

There is precious little evidence to confirm the 23 year-old is back to his best from 55 minutes against the Southern Kings.

This is where what American sports scouts call 'The Eye Test' comes into the calculation.

Schmidt has seen enough.


Schmidt has often spoken about the influence of Brian O'Driscoll and Jared Payne for the certainty their communication brought to those around them.

Ringrose is a deeply diligent, intelligent rugby player, who has learned how to be the boss in the outside channel.

Schmidt has noted this week how Ireland can't continue to leak three tries-per-game.

He also absolved defence coach Andy Farrell of any blame, citing the proven performer as world-class.

The greater responsibility rests with individuals, Jacob Stockdale the primary concern.

Now, Ringrose will have to deal with a new man inside in the seasoned Bundee Aki.

This is where the summer tour to the United States and Japan comes in as invaluable.

Ringrose and Stockdale worked together for three weeks and played together for two tests against the USA in New Jersey and Japan in Tokyo.

Okay, the level of competition does not compare, but the familiarity of personality and rugby habits will have lingered.

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