Sunday 18 March 2018

Joe Schmidt: Twickenham Grand Slam shot will motivate squad

Scotland’s Blair Kinghorn tries to halt the progress of Ireland’s Rob Kearney at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Photo: Dan Sheridan
Scotland’s Blair Kinghorn tries to halt the progress of Ireland’s Rob Kearney at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Photo: Dan Sheridan
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Ireland will travel to Twickenham this week with a Championship in the bag and a Grand Slam in their sights after a bonus-point win over Scotland was embellished by England falling short in Paris.

It leaves Ireland in the same position England were in last season: title secured but needing one more win for the big prize. And given that it was Ireland who stopped England reaching that goal 12 months ago, Eddie Jones' side won't want for motivation.

"We're about two or three per cent away from where we need to be," Jones said last night after his side's defeat in Paris. "We were beaten at the breakdown, we gave away 16 penalties which is far too many, and when we got momentum we didn't convert it into points. When they got momentum, they converted it into points.

"It seems like a long way away but it's not. You go through these periods as a team. We're going through a difficult period at the moment, but we'll get through it."

Jones has had a huge impact on England since taking over after the World Cup debacle in 2015 but it's Joe Schmidt, with three Six Nations titles on his cv in five seasons, who will be desperate to see out the campaign unblemished.

When he succeeded Declan Kidney, Ireland had come off the back of a dismal campaign, finishing fifth, with just one win. In his five seasons in charge Ireland have never been out of the top three.

Schmidt said that this title win was especially sweet given the number of casualties in the squad in the run up to, and during, the four matches to date.

"From a wider squad perspective it is," he said. "There's a number of guys who won't be playing but are certainly right behind the squad. At the same time there are some players we have seen on the pitch who've worked incredibly hard.

"The motivation is in the squad. Rory Best has already spoken to the squad in the dressing-room to keep them focused. What I would say about this week is that you're always fatigued at this stage of the championship. There are always accumulated niggles that make the last week a testing one anyway."

But he reported that there were no notable injuries after yesterday's game. Rory Best needed stitches under his chin and Garry Ringrose was hobbling at the finish but Schmidt maintained fatigue was the primary issue. "We are just trying to get everyone fit and then keen to train on Monday and Tuesday, and then by Thursday evening go to Twickenham and see what we can do there."

England needed to match Ireland's bonus-point win but never looked up to it against a highly motivated France side, and ended up with only a losing bonus point. If they lose again on Saturday, it will be their worst campaign since 2010.

Ireland on the other hand completed their end of the bargain with a fourth try, from replacement Seán Cronin, with 11 minutes still to play.

"History doesn't protect you from the future," said Schmidt. "We hadn't lost in five years before today against Scotland. It didn't protect us, we had to do it again. We have to go to England and try to test their record out.

"If you can't motivate yourself against England, then you're in trouble. And if we're not very much in the game, they could get away from us very quickly with the athletes that they have in their team. If you don't keep going forward in this championship, you end up going backwards.

"It would be huge," he added, to win in Twickenham. "It would give me incredible satisfaction to achieve that because I work with these young men who do an incredibly difficult job and work very hard.

"They are a tough bunch and acquit themselves in tough moments very well. That deserves to be rewarded and we will all work hard to try to get that reward this week. Satisfaction is based on the effort that is put in."

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend admitted huge frustration at the scoreline where his side messed up three clear try-scoring moves. And while he couldn't call the outcome in Twickenham on Saturday, he was pretty clear on the scale of such an achievement for Ireland.

"Winning at Twickenham would be a huge achievement," he said. Schmidt will announce his team at lunchtime on Thursday.

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