Friday 19 January 2018

Joe Schmidt can learn from stunning Scarlets victory ahead of clash with Brave Blossoms

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will take his side to the USA and Japan for a tour in a few weeks. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will take his side to the USA and Japan for a tour in a few weeks. Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

It's unlikely that lessons for Joe Schmidt were uppermost in Leo Cullen's mind after Friday night's collapse against Scarlets, but you can take it that the Ireland coach was a bit rattled by it.

In a few weeks he takes his squad to the USA and Japan, and whatever about the threat of the Eagles in New Jersey, it's a given that coaches Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown will be gearing the Brave Blossoms to try and drive over an Ireland side sorely lacking in experience.

So Schmidt will have watched Leinster, short three men who will be missing next month as well - Rob Kearney, Sean Cronin and Jamie Heaslip - and fast forwarded to Japan. Whatever way he spins it, losing either of those Tests is not good business ahead of the World Cup.

Ideally Schmidt would have taken the three of them as route-finders for the horde of first-time Ireland tourists. It's possible none of Kearney (31), Cronin (31) or Heaslip (33) will be around in 2019 when the World Cup makes its first stop in that country, but they could have served a purpose next month.

Chances are Schmidt will have less of an idea what Joseph and Brown will throw at them than Cullen knew about Wayne Pivac's plans for Scarlets. The theme from Leinster post-match on Friday night was that they had a fair handle on their opponents' intentions, but failed to cope when the heat came on. For Garry Ringrose - who will need a scan on his injured knee - it was another deposit in the lesson bank. For Johnny Sexton it was a frustrating night when his team needed him to be on the money only for him to come up short.

"It's the lack of composure from our end," Cullen said, stressing that it wasn't all about his outhalf. "It happened against Clermont in the (Champions Cup) semi-final, at the start of the game, and we had to find our way back into it. We could easily have come away winning that game."

In preparing for Scarlets the one immutable fact was that red shirts would be flying out of the traps at high speed, cutting off the passing lanes and forcing Leinster either back inside or to come up with an alternative. Mostly they went back inside, where they didn't want to go.

"We got close to breaking them on a number of occasions but we couldn't quite finish our chances off," added Cullen. "And that's just coming back to the composure piece. We knew they were going to come hard: they defend with a lot of players between the 15s, with two in the back-field and a lot of players in the front line.

"It happens a lot - teams know how we're going to play, and that's generally the picture that teams play against us, so we need to make sure we're aggressive in carrying through that front line. It was what we talked about and prepped all week, but again we coughed up the ball too cheaply."

We'll see more of this kind of pressure before the summer is out.

Sunday Indo Sport

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