Friday 15 December 2017

Schmidt: we can handle French pressure

Toner and Healy in for Henderson and McGrath

Devin Toner
Devin Toner
Joe Schmidt

Pressure is not so much for 'tyres' as for the 'wires' between a player's ears.

The smiling, beguiling Joe Schmidt showed up to the Ireland press conference yesterday with the air of a Sunday driver. The New Zealander looked that relaxed.

When told of France coach Philippe Saint-Andre's suggestion that all the pressure will be on Ireland tomorrow, Schmidt went on to mention the 'P' word eight time in 48 seconds.

Pressure? Damn right.

"We understand that there's pressure," he said.

"There's been pressure on us a number of times in recent years. There was pressure to win in France two years ago.

"There was pressure not just to win in Murrayfield this year, but to win by as great a margin as we could."

Make no doubt about it, Schmidt has had his game plan for France down-pat long before the Ireland squad congregated for pre-season.


In that regard, Devin Toner is pivotal to the moves designed off secure lineout ball.

It can be the only 'rings true' reason the coach has removed the remarkable Iain Henderson, undoubtedly Ireland's best forward at the World Cup.

"Yeah, it was a really tight call," sighed Schmidt.

"Dev' has been a big match player for us. He gives us a little more lineout capability."

Sure, the Ulsterman can be a force for good off the bench. But the hour-and-more he could have given has been sacrificed for the half-hour he will probably get off the bench.

In other words, the schemes and patterns devised by Schmidt come first and foremost.

It is the front row of Eddy Ben Arous, Guilhem Guirado and Rabah Slimani which will set the tone for France's deliberate ploy to smash Ireland to smithereens.

Finally, Cian Healy has won the right to wear the number one jersey from Jack McGrath in what could be recognition of the explosive scrummaging of Stade Francais tight-head Slimani.

The injured Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw will not get the chance renew their partnership in the centre as Keith Earls wins the prize for his versatility.

This will leave Ireland looking lighter through the middle than is ideal.

The intention was made clear by Schmidt to match size with sizable when it comes to Mathieu Bastareaud and Robbie Henshaw - the Athlone man made 16 out of 16 tackles last week - and speed with speed when it comes to Wesley Fofana and Earls.

"More often than not, he (Earls) will be marking up with Wesley Fofana and Wes' is a speed, agility, but power athlete as well. I think he's got all sorts of elements to his game."We don't have anyone who is the same size as Mathieu Bastareaud anyway."

It was then that Schmidt regaled the media with a memory from two years ago.

"We've long had difficulty containing him," he shared.


"I remember seeing a photo of about four players hanging off him in the Stade de France, including two being Darce (Gordon D'Arcy) and Drico (Brian O'Driscoll), two of the best centres we've ever had."

"The one thing I know is that both the centres have is limitless courage," he said.

"They will put themselves in the way of Bastareaud or anyone else coming down that channel. We hope that's sufficient."

Ireland: R Kearney; T Bowe, K Earls, R Henshaw, D Kearney; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross, D Toner, P O'Connell (capt), P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.

Verdict: Ireland.

Ireland v France live tv3 (tomorrow 4.45)

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