Schmidt backs Brian Boru factor to fire up Irish
Leinster boss talks about adapting to the Irish mindset and why his centres' error count will fall against France
JOE SCHMIDT has settled into his life in Ireland with considerable success.
The Leinster coach and his family are enjoying their time in Dublin, while, professionally, things have been going swimmingly as his charges overcame a difficult start to the season to scorch into the Heineken Cup quarter-finals playing a brand of free-flowing rugby heretofore unseen from an Irish team.
The New Zealander is extremely conscious that nothing has been won yet, but it is very much as case of so far, so good since his switch from Clermont and his experience of the French and Irish cultures is instructive ahead of Sunday's Six Nations showdown at Lansdowne Road.
Schmidt has been adapting to the Irish mindset since his arrival and he has put in the research, delving into the history books to discover what exactly makes the Irishman tick.
"It's something I have been getting to grips with since coming over here," said Schmidt. "There is sometimes the mindset that the Irish players seem more comfortable going in as underdogs. Starting favourites, as they did against Italy, it is a bigger mental challenge.
"It is an interesting side to the Irish, I have been reading up on my Irish history and the evolution of the Irish character, going back to Brian Boru and up to Michael Collins, has been closely associated with battling against the odds.
"The French character is different and can vary from game-to-game. You saw that in December in our games against Clermont. I was delighted with the manner of our victory in Lansdowne Road, but that wasn't the same Clermont team we played the week before over there.
"When French confidence is high they can be irresistible, but, I have seen it over the years, there is always the danger of complacency setting in and I know (France coach) Marc Lievremont, he is a pretty grounded character and he will be working hard to keep his players focused and their feet on the ground."
Whether Lievremont's men will be complacent or not, they are certain to go in as favourites following Ireland's error-ridden display in Rome. Two Leinster men, centres Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy, were the highest-profile offenders when it came to loose passes and dropped balls in the nervy 13-11 win over the Italians, but Schmidt has no fears over their capacity to bounce back on Sunday.
In fact, on Monday morning, some of his Ireland contingent showed up unexpectedly at Leinster training to work on their skills, displaying a work ethic that impressed Schmidt hugely.
"Ah, we are talking about quality players, there is no question about their skill levels and I think, as was said afterwards they were maybe trying to force it a little bit. I know they'll have worked hard this week, with a couple of them even having come in to do some individual skill work on Monday."
If Ireland have quality, then so too do the French, players Schmidt knows well from his time in the Top 14, none more than his Clermont captain, France centre Aurelien Rougerie.
"Obviously, I would know Roro (Rougerie) very well and he is a real threat, particularly when he comes back in on the reverse angle or uses his long fend on the outside break. People say that (Clement) Poitrenaud can be flaky at the back, having come across him over the years at Toulouse, I have the highest respect for him, he is an extremely creative player and a real competitor.
"Damien Traille and Aurelien would not have played a lot to together, so maybe that can be exploited. They are big, strong men on the ball, but Brian (O'Driscoll) and Gordon (D'Arcy) have the speed and agility to test the French defensive line. Also I think (Francois) Trinh-Duc is the type of out-half who can bring the best out in the two big centres and he is a good direct runner himself, so, as a unit, they are a big threat."
As is the highly-rated front-row of Nicolas Mas, William Servat and, another Clermont player, loose-head Thomas Domingo. That unit obliterated a decent Scottish scrum last weekend, but Schmidt has faith in Mike Ross to do a job on Sunday.
"Yeah, Thomas went very well against Scotland and he is tough operator with the perfect build for a loose-head prop, small and squat and powerful. But Rossy (Mike Ross) did very well against him in December, he coped really well, didn't let Domingo get underneath him and kept the scrum straight, which allowed our other players to do their job.
"But I think the combination of Domingo, Nicolas Mas and William Servat at hooker is a pretty impressive one. Servat is an immensely powerful man and key to the French scrummage. He is a really good player."
Schmidt will be overseeing Leinster's Magners League assignment against Aironi at the RDS this evening and he is relishing his time with the province.
"I am enjoying the group I'm working with. Havng coached for a number of years in different places, I really think the spirit we have at Leinster is something pretty special.
"You can see that in the way these players have performed so far and hopefully we can continue in the same vein."
On Sunday, he will be in Lansdowne watching Ireland and believes Declan Kidney's side have a better chance of victory than many observers are affording them.
"Ireland will be underrated going in, but there is real quality in this Irish squad and there is enough there to put France under pressure. I think we will see Ireland go up several levels in performance and I'm really looking forward to going to this match, it will be great to enjoy what should be a great game without any of the pressure that comes when it is your own side."