Wednesday 21 March 2018

In Schmidt we trust

Joe Schmidt
Joe Schmidt

LEINSTER were the Barcelona of European club rugby and Joe Schmidt the Pep Guardiola.

When he replaced Declan Kidney we expected him to bring a similar style to the Irish set-up. Brilliantly incisive play from the backs. Attacking rugby. Champagne stuff. What a lot of us failed to realise is that winning is Schmidt's style, more so than any system of play.

Some rugby folk bristled at suggestions that this wasn't the most scintillating of performances – in terms of ascetics – by an Irish team. You can see where they're coming from. If you were anything like us you watched that game on the edge of your seat with a grin that got wider and wider the longer the game progressed.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and to us that performance was a thing of beauty. On the Second Captains podcast Malcolm O'Kelly described the Irish rolling-maul as "exquisite". Indeed it was. The sight of Welsh men scattered in its wake, their attempts to hinder its progress failing and failing utterly, was a thing of beauty.

Jonny Sexton's kicks to touch in Lansdowne Road corner of the ground were beautiful. The sight of Scott Williams coming out second best of a monstrous tackle with Brian O'Driscoll, one that he initiated, well that to us was beautiful.

The style of performance owed more to Munster than Leinster. Front up, kick to the corners, drive home superiority in the set-piece. The centrality of Peter O'Mahony at the breakdown. The way Ireland seemed to grow stronger and stronger with each and every turnover. Feeding off O'Mahony's energy and passion and will to win.

One victory won't sate O'Mahony's desire. One victory won't sate Schmidt's or his squad's. We suspect not even a Triple Crown would. Schmidt is the business of winning championships and... whisper it... Grand Slams.

A Grand Slam is surely beyond Ireland this year, not since 1972 has Ireland won in both London and Paris in the same year, but a championship? A championship is a real possibility. In previous years we'd worry that such talk was premature, that it could even be damaging to Ireland's prospects, we don't do expectations, but Schmidt, we feel, has it covered.

Right after the game he addressed it. He acknowledged that what he described as player anxiety might be an issue. There's no beating around the bush with this guy. Problems are tackled head on, be they Sam Warburton or George North, or the psychological aspects of the game.

Commentators are quick to point out that what worked against Wales won't necessarily work against England. They're equally quick to point out that this coach and this bunch of players are more than capable of adapting their game to suit the opposition.

If that's what Schmidt was able to do in the six days between the Italian and Welsh games, imagine what he's going to be able to come up with in the fortnight before the game in Twickenham.

Can't wait? Neither can we.