Sunday 22 October 2017

Schmidt admits fears over Sexton's gruelling schedule

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt and assistant coach Les Kiss at the Ulster v Leinster pre-season friendly last month
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt and assistant coach Les Kiss at the Ulster v Leinster pre-season friendly last month
Conor George

Conor George

JOE SCHMIDT is hoping Jonathan Sexton's hectic schedule with Racing Metro won't exhaust Ireland's star performer ahead of the Autumn Internationals.

Schmidt kicks off his Ireland tenure with taxing games against Samoa, Australia and his native New Zealand in November and a fit, ready and excited Sexton will be key to his aspirations for those encounters.

The Ireland out-half has already played three Top 14 games for his new club – including last weekend's first 'proper' home win of the season when he kicked six from six in Racing's 22-9 win over Oyonnax – and there is a fear he may be burnt out by November.

"He's played more games than any of the other Lions players," said Schmidt yesterday. "With that schedule you're hoping that fatigue doesn't become a factor."

The former Leinster head coach is hopeful that the 28-year-old will be available to join his Ireland team-mates for a training camp later this month.

Successful

"He was here for our August camp when we had 52 players in and it was great to catch up and hear how he is getting on in Paris."

There is just a little over nine weeks until the Schmidt era-proper kicks off – "I'll be working hard and the players will be working hard to deliver something that will be entertaining and hopefully successful" – and he'll be hoping for a better return in results than he had after joining Leinster back in 2010.

"We lost five of the first six games," said Schmidt. "I was starting to question myself but what gave me confidence was the players came to me after the loss to Edinburgh and expressed their faith in what we were doing and where we were heading.

"They grasped it and took it forward," he added, while talking on RTE's 'Today with Sean O'Rourke'.

Leinster's next game that season was against Munster in the Aviva Stadium. They won 13-9 for the first victory of a Schmidt regime that yielded two Heineken Cup titles, an Amlin Challenge Cup and a league title.

Schmidt assumed the Ireland position after a dreadful run of results under Declan Kidney in last season's Six Nations – "any coach would sympathise with the experiences of the national team last year with all those injuries" – and will be hailed a hero if he can revive their flagging fortunes.

Under his direction Leinster were one of the most exciting teams to watch in Europe. He admits his time there "surpassed all expectations". If Ireland are to be successful, though, Schmidt believes it is the players who will be the driving force.

"It is a player-driven environment. They have to want to be able to deliver those different aspects of the game.

"They have to work hard because the skill and technique required is very demanding and it's not a case of just working on that in Ireland camp. That work by the players must go on throughout the year."

One of the toughest aspects of the job for a coach renowned for being a stickler for detail and with a reputation for being 'hands-on' is certain to be the very limited coaching opportunities he is afforded during the season.

"I've been asking myself how I am going to get across the style of play I want to the players in very short windows. Inevitably I will have less influence because I get them a week before the Autumn Internationals. The players will be doing the most of their work on skills with their provinces."

Schmidt has one more pressing date before getting on with the task of plotting the next stage of his career – the All-Ireland football final.

"My son has become a real Dublin supporter and I was sitting next to him for the semi-final win over Kerry so I'm slightly deaf in my right ear as a result!" he said. "It was a fantastic game, because of the number of goals scored and the openness of the play.

"I'm looking forward to the Dublin-Mayo final."

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