Saturday 29 April 2017

Schmidt refusal to park bus issue shows flaws in players' mental strength

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

We thought we'd heard the last of bus-gate, that Ireland would have parked the issue that has somehow come to dominate the agenda in the wake of their defeat to Scotland last weekend, but just as it seemed the focus could switch to Italy Joe Schmidt raised it once again of his own volition at Carton House yesterday.

Asked about preventing another slow start this weekend the coach once again brought up his team's delayed arrival at Murrayfield which came about because, according to the Irish management, the local police took the bus on a different route than they had previously used.

We would never have known about the bus had it not been for Schmidt bringing it up repeatedly after Saturday's match, and while again he insisted that being re-routed to the stadium is not an excuse for the poor performance that followed, by again raising it unprompted the head coach is leaving himself open to the accusation of a lack of introspection after one of the most disappointing results of his tenure to date.

"It's incredibly disappointing the way we started. It wasn't apathy, it was just anxiety with not having the full period to warm up," he said.

"Players get anxious, they are routine-based but I do think it is a challenge for a professional player that they can become adaptable," he said when asked about avoiding a slow start once again in Rome.

Schmidt and his coaching team have largely laid the responsibility for last week's false start at the door of the players and their disjointed warm-up.

The head coach said that the team had stewed on the disappointment of losing to Scotland for 48 hours, but it was clear from yesterday's team announcement that the healing process has yet to be completed.

And his chief concern at this stage must be how fragile his squad are if a delay of fewer than 15 minutes can throw them off their rhythm.

The Ireland team look on after conceding a late penalty during the RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Scotland and Ireland at BT Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
The Ireland team look on after conceding a late penalty during the RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Scotland and Ireland at BT Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Bizarrely, he later claimed not to have mentioned the bus incident when asked why he had brought the issue up again. He hadn't said the word, but the implication was clear.

"I'm not sure that I've mentioned the bus at all," he said to a somewhat bemused audience. "It's not an excuse but it's something that's a good challenge for us. It's good to be challenged, even in our preparation, and be adaptable and be able to cope with it.

"One of the solutions for us is to be put in positions where we feel a bit of insecurity and a little bit of pressure and be able to cope.

"Unless you get put in those positions, unless you're put out of your routine, you don't know how you're going to cope.

"I don't think there's a team that's never in transition because that's a permanent.

"In any sporting environment there's transition, whether it be short-term because somebody's injured or long-term because somebody's retired and there's someone new coming in to take their spot.

"Therefore you're always trying to build those combinations because I think rugby is incredibly interdependent. If you're defending or attacking you're incredibly reliant on somebody else doing their job for you to be able to do your job. So that's a continual challenge for coaches and players in any team."

Although he said there is an effort in camp to change things up and shock players out of their comfort zones to ensure that issues like the bus delays don't upset them again.

"We certainly do it, but the one thing I would say that, you know, by the end of training the players pretty much take over and their rhythm is what they determine is their best preparation," he said.

"You've got some great experience there and in the end they have to play the game and make the decisions, they have to cope with the atmosphere and the pressure and the physical nature of the game and still make really good decisions under those conditions.

"So I think it's really important that they lead themselves.

"The coaching staff have a huge amount of confidence in them. There are very few times in my three and a half years doing this job that we've started sluggishly like that."

So, it's over to the players to make sure it doesn't happen again. And the bus driver of course.

Irish Independent

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