Wednesday 19 December 2018

Schmidt: we have to break down the wall

Coach forced into four changes for Aussie duel

Joe Schmidt. Photo: Sportsfile
Joe Schmidt. Photo: Sportsfile
Paddy Jackson. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland stand on the cusp of an unprecedented seven-month period in which they could beat all three southern hemisphere powerhouse nations.

"It would be historic," said coach Joe Schmidt. "If we could get a result against Australia after getting a result in Cape Town and getting a result in Chicago, we could really say that 'we've got some kids that are coming through'."

Of course, it is all predicated on the 2017 Six Nations and, thereafter, the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

"We could say we're building something that will endure, leading further into next year and the year after."

For the moment, Schmidt has been forced into four changes as Robbie Henshaw, Jonathan Sexton and the banged up Simon Zebo and Donnacha Ryan sit this one out.

Into their places come the exciting Garry Ringrose, out of position, and the more proven personnel of Paddy Jackson, Keith Earls and Iain Henderson.

The decision to go with the Leinster three-quarter is a huge vote of confidence.

"I think with Garry, out of position is probably not completely accurate," batted away Schmidt.


"When you're defending in the midfield, to go into twelve might be more combative, but there is less decision-making required (than at thirteen).

"At least at twelve, you're part of a three-man panel and you slide that panel across the pitch and you keep closing doors, if you can.

"Tactically, it does allow him a little more certainty."

Jackson really needs a big game to reassert his place in the pecking order behind Sexton.

Earls has looked razor-blade sharp for Munster and Henderson is working his way back to peak performance.

There is what Ireland will do to impose their game and there is what Australia will do to counter them.

Schmidt is wary about their recovery of confidence from three well-earned wins in Europe against Wales, Scotland and France.

"I think their defensive consistency is better. It's a lot harder to find time and space against them, certainly to find space between players or on the edge of players.

"They've got a real 'wall' mentality as far as their defensive line is concerned and I think that's a lot harder to break down."

The Wallabies hard-nosed coach Michael Cheika, Schmidt's successor at Leinster, has a real rugby intellect by his side in Stephen Larkham, the ex-Australia out-half legend.

"I thought he was an unbelievable player, a super player," said Schmidt. "The Brumbies were always the team that were the most innovative.

"They kind of started with half of them being homegrown. They took guys from Sydney and got other people's second best and made it into a super environment that was very productive."

Larkham has been able to translate his skills as a player into cutting edge teaching tools as a coach.

"You had to say that they were getting better and better during the Rugby Championship," noted Schmidt.

That was until they came up against a ruthless All Blacks to leave a bad taste in their mouths on the final day of that competition.

"In that last match against New Zealand, as much as there was a 27-point differential, so many of the stats in the performance favoured the Australian players."

The mere mention brings about a sense of deja vu for the Ireland coach from last Saturday.

"I know what that's like, so they would have had some frustrations.

"They've come up here since and you'd have to say that they look like they are going in the right direction.

"I hope they're not, but that's the way it appears to me."

Ireland: R Kearney; A Trimble, J Payne, G Ringrose, K Earls; P Jackson, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best (capt), T Furlong, I Henderson, D Toner, CJ Stander, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.

Australia: I Folau, D Haylett-Petty, T Kuridrani, R Hodge, H Speight, B Foley, W Genia; S Sio, S Moore, S Kepu, R Arnold, R Simmons, D Mumm, M Hooper, D Pocock.

Verdict: Ireland

Ireland v Australia, tomorrow, live rtÉ 2/sky sports 2 (KO 5.30)

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