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Sunday 30 April 2017

Joe Schmidt rejects notion Ireland will target George North's defence

Joe Schmidt, pictured, has insisted Ireland would be playing with fire by seeking to exploit George North's criticised defence
Joe Schmidt, pictured, has insisted Ireland would be playing with fire by seeking to exploit George North's criticised defence

Joe Schmidt has insisted Ireland would be playing with fire by seeking to exploit George North's criticised defence in Friday's RBS 6 Nations clash in Wales.

Defence guru Shaun Edwards handed North a "warning" earlier this week for the giant wing to sharpen up after a lacklustre showing in Wales' 29-15 loss in Scotland on February 25.

Head coach Schmidt revealed Ireland's surprise at the strength of criticism levelled at Northampton wing North - then rejected any notion of targeting the 24-year-old at the Principality Stadium.

Ireland can set up a title decider with England in Dublin on March 18 with victory in Wales on Friday, with Garry Ringrose continuing at outside centre in Cardiff.

"If you've seen the size, the strength, the speed and the agility of such a big man, why would you go looking for George North?" said Schmidt.

"I know it doesn't leave you a lot of options, because Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams are no shrinking violets either, and Liam Williams was an absolute superstar against New Zealand.

"They do have a lot of threats across the board and I don't think we're wilfully going to go looking for George North to see if his defensive game is up to it b ecause we've seen him do incredibly well defensively.

"And I think the human factor in any sporting occasion means that the human factor is unknown, despite favouritism, despite conditions potentially favouring one side or another, or one specific athlete or another.

"That's why people love it, because there is that sense of the unknown.

"What could be a bad day one day for a player can quickly become a good one next time out.

"And I didn't think it was a shocking day by any means, there's been a fairly tough reaction to such a good player and he's a nice fella as well any time I've chatted to him.

"So I think he will have a big one this time, unfortunately.

"And I'm sure he's highly motivated to have a really good game, as are the rest of the Welsh XV.

"They are so used to competing on the last day of the championship to win or lose the championship.

"So for them not to be in that position will certainly provide extra motivation for them."

Ireland will have the final say over whether the Principality Stadium roof remains open or closed for Friday's encounter.

While boss Schmidt insisted his management team have yet to make a decision, he hinted Ireland would prefer the roof open if conditions allow.

"There is no decision as yet," said Schmidt of the call on the stadium's roof.

"We're just waiting for a formal request (from Wales) to make a decision. The later that request comes the better accuracy there is in terms of the weather forecast.

"If it's fine (weather) there wouldn't seem too much point in closing the stadium.

"The surface can get slippery when the roof is closed.

"We'll make a decision probably when we're over there and we'll get more clarity from there."

Ulster centre Jared Payne trained fully on Wednesday but had not regained fitness after heavy bruising in time to mount a realistic selection bid to face Wales.

Now the 31-year-old should feature for Ulster this weekend, before aiming to contest selection for the England clash on March 18.

"Jared was sharp this morning when he trained," said Schmidt. "That put him in the frame but he just hadn't had enough time with us.

"He could potentially still be in the frame for the England game next week."

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