Sunday 18 November 2018

Schmidt warns that lack of focus could cost spot for All Blacks clash

Kieran Marmion has been chosen to start at scrum-half tomorrow in the absence of Conor Murray. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Kieran Marmion has been chosen to start at scrum-half tomorrow in the absence of Conor Murray. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Joe Schmidt's tone was light as he said it, but the message was as cold as ice.

Having named his team and explained his selections, the head coach was delving into some bigger-picture elements of the Argentina game when it was put to him that it would be natural for his players to have an eye on next week, and the game of the year, against the All Blacks in Dublin.

They are, after all, only human.

"Yeah, they're conditioned to a degree that they're not that human," Schmidt countered.

"One of the dangers that they understand fully is if they look that far ahead they compromise what they deliver this weekend.

"And then next week they're really looking forward to the game but (end up) watching it from the stands. That's not where they want to be. They want to have their boots and they want to be right in amongst it.

"Their best opportunity to do that, on the back of some really good performances last week, is to make sure their performances are very similar.

Accurate

"Making sure that they are accurate, they're doing a good job for the team. If we can get that we know we're going to be competitive. If we're competitive, we find that the Aviva is a fantastic place to play."

You can be sure the chill wind of the coach's words reached every corner of Carton House as his players prepared for their move into the city centre and the Shelbourne Hotel yesterday.

There is a lightness to the head coach that some in the press corps suggest may be down to him making his mind up on his future.

Alternatively, it could be because he is being presented with the "good headaches" that come from having so many of his top performers fit and well.

Had they been fit, Rob Kearney, Garry Ringrose and Conor Murray would all have been involved in this game, while the coach name-checked Chris Farrell a number of times yesterday.

Despite their absence, after watching his second string hammer Italy last weekend Schmidt could turn to the majority of his leaders for tomorrow's meeting with Argentina.

"The coaching group, we hummed and hawed a lot last night, we went backwards and forwards and then went, 'righto, let's sleep on it' and then made some decisions this morning.

"So that's kind of the situation you want to be in, and in the end - guys played last week, we've tried to include guys who are desperately keen to put their hand up and train well on Tuesday.

"So it was getting that balance, and make no mistake for guys like Pete O'Mahony on the back of what I thought was some of his best footy for us in the Australian tour, there's no surprise he still gets back in there and it's his turn this week to really impress because he's played at the very top level and led from the front for a long time.

"CJ Stander similarly, James Ryan in the context of his performances in the last 12 months. Iain Henderson in the context of the experience he brings and he's continuing to develop as a lineout expert for us as well. He's a very intelligent man.

"Up front, Cian (Healy), Besty (Rory Best) and Tadhg (Furlong), they've got a pretty good relationship and they'll be pretty keen to go.

"Out the back, to bring in Johnny (Sexton), that's probably no shock.

"He's just been named as one of the nominees for World Player of the Year and I think that's on really solid foundations of world-class performances and world-class moments that needed to be absolutely spot on.

"Keith Earls' performances in recent times have also made him an incredibly difficult player to dislodge.

"So for guys coming in, it's in respect of Argentina, it's in respect to the performances they've together in recent times. It's going to be interesting to see if we can get our cohesion."

Breathe

Schmidt is hoping that the performances of the understudies will breathe fire into the front-liners' efforts.

"Yeah, I hope so, the more they are looking over their shoulder, in a glance, and then getting their eyes front-focused... I think anyone runs a little bit harder when they can hear the breathing of someone behind them," he said.

"I don't want (anyone) looking around, I just want them running a bit harder so that they can keep that distance.

"So, as I've said, some guys really impressed last week and it's up to this week's group to really keep those guys at bay."

Irish Independent

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