Thursday 27 April 2017

Schmidt gives Ireland puncher's chance of a victory

Schmidt: Three changes. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Schmidt: Three changes. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Punters chasing their Cheltenham losses may want to steer clear of Ireland tomorrow after their coach ranked their chances of beating England alongside Barcelona's hopes of coming from 4-0 down to beat Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, Douvan's poor showing in the Champion Chase and his own team's win over New Zealand in Chicago.

Barca were 10/1 to overcome their deficit at the Camp Nou, while Douvan was 1/4 going into his race and, according to Schmidt, Ireland were 13/1 to beat the All Blacks.

The bookies are not convinced by the head coach's hard sell; Ireland are at 6/4 to derail England's Grand Slam bid despite losing Conor Murray and Rob Kearney yesterday.

Kieran Marmion makes his first Six Nations start, Jared Payne comes in at full-back for his first appearance for Ireland since damaging his kidney in November and Devin Toner is dropped to accommodate Iain Henderson.

That puts an already creaking lineout under even more strain, but Schmidt is hoping the Ulster powerhouse's dynamism compensates.

Read more: Joe Schmidt laments loss of Murray and explains reasons for Toner decision

But it is the loss of Murray that gives Schmidt the most cause for concern. This is the first big game the scrum-half has been unavailable for during his tenure and his absence weakens the team significantly.

"Any team can be beaten on their day," he said when asked about Ireland's chances.

"We have seen a bit of that lately. Who would have picked Barcelona to turn around that PSG result? Who would have picked Douvan to get beaten yesterday at 4/1 on? Who would have picked us to win in Chicago at 13/1 in a two-horse race?

"That's what people love about sport. Can we? We have to believe we can. We have got to go out there with that absolute belief that we can and we know that at the same time if we don't get as much as possible right we know that they will be too good."

The decision to leave Toner out of the starting XV was taken to try and freshen up the pack and Schmidt said it wasn't an easy call.

"I had a really good chat with Dev," he said. "He's there on the bench and we've got some good lineout strength coming off the bench and if we need to go to that it's there and available for us.

"It's tough for Dev, but at the same time he's racked up some massive miles and he's just a little bit fatigued at the moment and Iain Henderson is fresh. Donnacha Ryan is fresher."

Although he appeared a little subdued at yesterday's team announcement, Schmidt said there was still a lot for Ireland to play for despite missing out on the title.

And he is fully aware of the World Cup ramifications if Wales can beat France and Ireland lose to England, which would mean Ireland would lose their top-seeding for the 2019 tournament in May's draw.

"The biggest (motivation) would be to get second in a Six Nations," he said. "In the last four years, we've won two and got third in the other one. To stay in the top three is incredibly important to us.

"We always knew it was going to be an incredibly tough Six Nations and we knew that (a) we had to be really accurate and (b) we'd ideally have everyone available and get that continuity throughout it.

"We haven't been as accurate as we've needed to be. We haven't been that far off that benchmark that we've set but we don't have to be that far off.

"It would be nice for us to keep the (World Rugby) ranking at number four because that is part of our long-term goal for us, to achieve at the next World Cup.

"You can still get drawn in a really tough pool. It doesn't assure you of anything but it does put you in a slightly better position to be drawn in a pool that is a little bit less competitive.

"Games against England, no matter what they are, are just big anyway. They are the big brother. You're always going to try to get one over your big brother."

Irish Independent

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