Joe Schmidt turns up heat on referee Jerome Garces
Joe Schmidt has turned up the heat on French referee Jerome Garces ahead of tomorrow's opening Six Nations game against a Wales side who "complicate" matters when it comes to officiating, according to the New Zealander.
The Ireland head coach yesterday confirmed that Sean O'Brien and Rob Kearney would miss the first game of his team's title defence with hamstring injuries but hopes to have both back on board for game two against France next Sunday.
He has named Simon Zebo at full-back, while Tommy O'Donnell comes in for O'Brien at openside alongside CJ Stander, who makes his Ireland debut having qualified on residency grounds in November,
Schmidt's side suffered defeat to Wales in last year's Six Nations and were left fuming at referee Wayne Barnes' interpretations at the breakdown and scrum.
They last encountered Garces in their World Cup quarter-final defeat to Argentina and were left dissatisfied by a number of calls in that loss.
Pointing out that teams' penalty counts spike against Warren Gatland's side compared to other games, the Kiwi coach wants his players to keep their discipline and be rewarded for doing the right things by the officials tomorrow.
"If you look at the pattern across the Six Nations, a number of teams have their highest penalty count when they play Wales," he said.
"It is one of those things, a complication when you're playing them. You've got to try and limit that number.
"If you review that game between Wales and England at the World Cup, there's a number of penalties that I'm sure England would have been disappointed with and that's one of those conundrums.
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"We still maintained a pretty good discipline, our penalty count in the last Six Nations averaged less than 10, the year before was less than eight and there's nothing that we're doing that's different in trying to stay disciplined than there was those two times.
"A lot of them last time against Wales came at the scrum and we were exasperated by that, but that's one of those things. We have to try and manage ourselves and we'll continue to try to manage it."
Despite the charge of conservatism levelled at him in some quarters as he overlooked Ulster's Stuart McCloskey and Paddy Jackson, Schmidt believes that he has taken a risk with his selection.
"If you don't feel like you have taken a risk every time that you go to a Test match then you probably haven't given it enough thought, because I'm forever thinking maybe we should do this or maybe we should do that," he said.
"Maybe we should factor the variables in so that we could try to be I suppose as certain in our thinking and offer as much clarity to the players as possible so that we can make it as black and white as possible because there are so many variables.
"You want as much certainty as you can get."
Tomorrow's clash at the Aviva Stadium (3.0) represents Ireland's first chance to atone for their desperately disappointing World Cup quarter-final exit at the hands of Argentina.
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Yet the absence of O'Brien has compounded an already lengthy injury list that has many fans worried about their side's chances of mounting a reasonable bid at a third Six Nations title in a row.
"What we have tried to do is stay hugely focused on the people we have and the qualities they bring and the confidence we have in the guys who are in there to step up," Schmidt said of the absentees.
"While we were massively disappointed with the result in Cardiff and the quarter-final, there were a number of guys who stepped in their roles on a limited preparation so we have a little bit more preparation this time although Sean and Rob were late withdrawals so that always complicated it a little bit.
"It means you have to juggle or slot guys in quite late. So would you like another week to prepare? absolutely. The reality is we play on Sunday.
"We feel relatively prepared for that but also cognisant of the fact they will be well prepared because there has been real rhythm and continuity in their selections and the way they play the game."