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Thursday 20 September 2018

Schmidt: We must improve

Ireland coach wants team to play with tempo while keeping better possession

Sean O'Brien scores Ireland's second try against Samoa. Picture: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE
Sean O'Brien scores Ireland's second try against Samoa. Picture: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

First came the reality check.

When the microphone was thrust into Joe Schmidt's face for the first homage of Brian O'Driscoll's final season to be paid, it didn't go as planned.

"Great little pass between his legs, a couple of defensive reads he'll look at again and a couple of things early in the game where he forced offloads he didn't have to," said Schmidt.

"While we are looking to play with tempo, we want to play with a tempo where we are accurate enough to make sure we don't offer opportunity".

The Ireland coach was sending out a message. Nobody is above criticism. The same standards will apply to all, especially the greatest among them.

"You've got to crawl before you can walk before you can run. We just need to understand we've got to look after the ball first and the other elements of the game can come".

It is a trick Schmidt managed through his reign at Leinster to supply criticism of performance, personal and collective, without making it personal. He just wants the Irish public to know what his players need to do.

"I would accept there should be some criticism of the backline. I did think that we did two very nice scrum set plays that resulted – one – in an immediate try and – one – three phases later.

"We'll be tidier if we make sure we look after the ball and the ball carrier. I don't think we did those things particularly well, whether it was backs or forwards."

Ireland stuttered to their 40-9 victory against a Samoan side that did not look that well conditioned, not compared to their former legendary three-quarter Brian Lima, who's chiselled body led their pre-match Haka.

Conditioning wasn't all they were short of either. No Census Johnson. No Paul Williams. No Alesana Tuilagi. No Joe Tekori from the start. Lost Logovi'i Muilpola early. And there were more too.

"We can't offer full-strength sides opportunities like that. With the Wallabies coming next week, that is a risk we can't afford to take," offered Schmidt.

What about the Wallabies? "We're going to have to be twice as good as we were tonight," he added.

Ball security and loose, long kicking were problems for Ireland, handing back soft ball to the Samoans and then having to absorb 67 tackles against 25 by The Islanders in the first-half.

"You can't afford to be making twice as many tackles, almost three times, in that first-half, not with the Australians because I think they'll be more cohesive.

"They've got an incredible ability to probe around the fringes with the likes of (Will) Genia and some of the big loose forwards that run off him and some of the wingers that get in and around that area.

"At the same time, they have a fantastic ability to shift the point of attack, particularly with Quade Cooper."

Ewen McKenzie's Australia showed exemplary skills to crush Italy 50-20 with seven tries at Stadio Olimpico, looking far from jaded at the tail end of their international season.

This comes hot on the heels of their crushing defeat of Argentina in hostile Roasario, a battling, innovative effort against New Zealand in Dunedin and a loss that could have gone either way against England at Twickenham.

There is no chance of Schmidt taking a peak around the corner at New Zealand when he has to plan to contain Will Genia, Quade Cooper and Israel Folau.

"Australia is the third-ranked team in the world. We are a fair way off that. For us, we've got to maximise our performance next week".

There was still time for a mention of the All Blacks, just before they choked up a revitalised France 26-19 in a real live test match at Stade de France.

"It is not really on our mind. I know who they are and I know they are coming on the 24th of November," he giggled.

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