O'Connell thumbs up for Schmidt effect
THE IMPECCABLE record of Joe Schmidt was manifest in the most meaningful way at Ireland's Carton House training base yesterday when Paul O'Connell spoke of the pressure even seasoned internationals were experiencing.
For the last three seasons the Ireland players not with Leinster have heard about Schmidt's ways and have, in many ways, coveted the success their international colleagues have enjoyed under the affable Kiwi's tutelage.
Schmidt has held two training camps in the last two months and, O'Connell revealed, they have provided the players with the perfect snapshot of what life will be like under him.
"We have seen a lot of the stuff that the Leinster lads would have told us about, the way Joe goes about his business," said O'Connell.
"It is a little bit different to some of the things we've experienced before. It's been very enjoyable.
"It's very big on detail and clarity and having your work done before you go out on the pitch, knowing it and being able to react quickly on the pitch.
"It has been a very good few days. Guys will be looking forward now to coming together again for the Guinness Series in November."
Schmidt's credentials will be tested like never before next month against three sides all above Ireland in the IRB world rankings. The coach could only chuckle good naturedly when assessing the challenges that will be posed by Samoa, Australia and New Zealand.
"Such will be the challenges that it will be unrealistic to expect the same 23 to endure that three-week spell," he said.
"We will need to spread the depth a little in terms of the squad. It is a positive that we have guys vying for positions because we saw in last year's Six Nations how a squad can become vulnerable when they are hit with injuries."
Schmidt's choice of language was especially informative. He wasn't exaggerating when he suggested the Ireland players will "endure" a torrid three weeks next month.
"Samoa is going to be a very physical contest. They will also spread the ball but they are particularly physical," he said.
"Then we've got Australia and they are hurting after their experiences in the Rugby Championship and will be looking to build confidence on their tour.
"That brings us to New Zealand! They have a very good record against Ireland and their players will feel a sense of responsibility to protect that record, while we have a massive responsibility to challenge that record.
"There's no easy game in there really. It's going to be a real challenge every time," Schmidt added.
It was confirmed that Schmidt's assistant coach Les Kiss will be primarily in charge of the defence, with his fellow Kiwi John Plumtree taking the forwards, although all three coaches will have input across the spectrum.
"I have experience of defence and attack and will be a help there," said Plumtree. Kiss echoed those sentiments, with Schmidt suggesting the trio of coaches will operate in a laissez-faire environment instead of strictly sticking to specific roles.
"We all get on well ... probably because all we talk about is rugby. Pretty boring I guess," laughed Schmidt.
Schmidt called 42 players into camp for the November Series but even allowing for that large gathering, his squad selection is open to some debate. Why, for example, has Connacht's excellent scrum-half Kieran Marmion been left out?
Marmion was one of the Westerners' stand-out players last season. He has carried that form into this campaign and has certainly looked more impressive than some of the scrum-halves included in the Ireland set-up.
"I spoke to Kieran and he's certainly someone we're keeping a very close eye on," said Schmidt.
It has not been ideal from an Irish perspective that Ian Madigan has yet to play a game at out-half this season although Schmidt is confident he will play there for Leinster in the coming weeks, leading to the suggestion he will start there against Cardiff on Friday.
"Ian might have started (at 10) already but the Leinster backline was short players. I know what that's like. Ian started four big Heineken Cup games for me at full-back," he said.
"Fortunately for Leinster and unfortunately for him Jimmy Gopperth has started well there. But I do think Ian will get a shot at the 10 spot some time over the next two to three weeks."
Ireland's players returned to their provinces and clubs yesterday and won't be together again until the weeks leading up to the November Series.