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'He knows what I do and I know what he does'


Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt at yesterday's team announcement at Carton House

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt at yesterday's team announcement at Carton House


Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt at yesterday's team announcement at Carton House

JOE Schmidt never got to share his feelings on Rob Penney's departure from Munster as he unveiled his team to face Wales yesterday, but the Ireland coach might have been of a mind to drop his fellow New Zealander a thank-you text for the timing if nothing else.

Normally at this time of the week there is tunnel vision towards the weekend Test match, but after news broke of the coach's decision to leave at the end of the season and Paul O'Connell reporting for media duties, the focus moved slightly.

By this morning, the news cycle will have come full circle and we'll all be concentrating on Wales once again and the stern test that awaits the coach and his side come 2.30 tomorrow.

But, with the bombshell having dropped just minutes before Schmidt walked into the room and named his line-up at Carton House, it was understandable that the captain was the centre of attention for much of proceedings and you got the sense that it suited the coach just fine.

Indeed, Warren Gatland was supposed to be the Kiwi who hogged the attention this week, but Penney stole a march on both of his fellow countrymen.

Schmidt's announcement included few surprises as the well-flagged return of the "fresher" Gordon D'Arcy for a weary Luke Marshall was the sole amendment to the team that would have faced Scotland had Paul O'Connell not taken ill.

Normally, the New Zealander has a trick up his sleeve for the crunch games, but we will have to wait until after kick-off to see if there is a big reveal.

Perhaps it is the opponent he faces tomorrow who is making him think twice about his plans.

The two coaches know each other well going back to when they played together in an invitational game in New Zealand – either a teachers XV or a universities side, according to Schmidt's memory – and then faced each other for their provinces Manawatu and Waikato.

Later, they would cross swords in the Super 14 when Gatland coached the Chiefs and Schmidt was part of the Auckland Blues ticket, but this meeting at Lansdowne Road is undoubtedly the highest stakes in which they have gone toe-to-toe.


"I've no doubt that he knows a fair bit about what I do and I know a fair bit about what he does as well," Schmidt conceded.

"Obviously, he's just coached, to varying degrees, about 10 of our lads (with the Lions). Some of them got injured and didn't have a lot of time on tour, others spent a lot of time with him. They give insights into how he's thinking and what he's developing.

"Then, I suppose, you get that double jeopardy where you start to think, 'Well, he knows we might do this'. I don't think we're going to do a lot different to what we did this week, because you can't afford to get too complicated."

That was the message from Ireland's coach, who has taken the lessons from November and is applying them in spring.

The weather forecast will play a part – Schmidt knows better than to try to execute intricate plays in a storm – and the second-half display against Scotland appears to be the template Ireland will work off.

"I did think that we played a reasonably simple game plan last week," he said. "We were just trying to be effective in what we did deliver. I'm hopeful that we don't have to stray too much away from that, to be honest."

Schmidt has been flagging the six-day turnaround for some time now, but he is happy that, apart from Marshall, the other 13 players who turned out against Scotland are fresh enough to do a job.


"There were two or three other positions that we thought about and, in the end, guys bounced back on Tuesday and we made a decision," he said.

"It was a continuity versus freshness decision – they bounced back fresh enough and we decided to limit the changes."

Having dominated Scotland up front last weekend, Schmidt will be hoping his team can get the edge on Wales despite the step up in class.

The scrum will be an area of focus and it will be fascinating to learn if reports of Adam Jones' demise are exaggerated in the face of a test from Cian Healy.

The Welsh were unhappy with how the set-piece was refereed last weekend against Italy and Schmidt is concerned by the lack of play from the base compared to Ireland's game, where Craig Joubert encouraged the No 8s and scrum-halves to get it away.

He's hoping that Wayne Barnes does something similar this time around.

"Like any other referee, (we're just looking for) consistency, the ability to problem solve," he said of the English official. "They are as fallible and as effective as players, it's the human factor."

Size is the other factor that Schmidt has to account for with his starting backline giving away a stone a man to the huge Welsh carriers behind the scrum.

Up front, parity should be attainable, but Schmidt admits that Ireland will have to be clever when facing up to the likes of George North, Alex Cuthbert and Jamie Roberts one-on-one. "There are some match-ups for sheer physical size where there's an imbalance," he conceded.

"The one thing you try to be is sharper on your feet so that you can get maybe a half an arm or a 'soft' shoulder as opposed to full contact with these guys because you can't win collisions against a man who weighs 10 kilos more than you do."

That will be something he will rely on his players to figure out; he can only prepare them so far. Gatland may know Schmidt well, but, even after showing his hand, one suspects that the Ireland coach might have one or two things up his sleeve tomorrow, when the focus will fully be back on the game.

Irish Independent