Schmidt insists belief in his Irish side has not wavered
Joe Schmidt says his belief in what Ireland can achieve at this World Cup has not been shaken by Saturday's shock defeat to Japan.
Speaking after naming Johnny Sexton as captain of a much-changed team to face Russia tomorrow, the head coach said he has full confidence that his side will bounce back and have a real crack at making history by reaching the semi-final.
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Schmidt, who revealed World Rugby admitted that referee Angus Gardner made a number of key errors in awarding decisions against his team last Saturday, says his players have what it takes to come through tomorrow's match and the clash with Samoa on Saturday week while building towards a crescendo against New Zealand or South Africa.
"No," he said when asked if his belief had been shaken.
"Before the tournament, Japan worried me, probably more than Scotland in a lot ways because we know Scotland inside out. We had only lost one of our last seven games against Scotland.
"It was the whole equation of Japan being capable of that outstanding effort, the fact that their games are nicely spaced... they are the home nation and it was disappointing when the home nation got beaten out the last time.
"I know that it's a real advantage to have the host nation in the tournament because interest levels stay up and we knew that they'd be really challenging.
"So, I think for us, the biggest disappointment is you've got to have confidence after the first 20 minutes, you've gone down there, you've scored two tries, you feel like you've got a degree of control on the game.
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"Our scrum's very strong, it's disappointing to concede that scrum penalty and again the feedback is that it was a tough call.
“But you’ve got to get above that and continue to be positive, and I’m still incredibly positive about this group.”
Robbie Henshaw remains sidelined with his hamstring problem, but Schmidt defended the decision to take him to Japan.
It looks like the Athlone native will feature against Samoa on Saturday week, with Garry Ringrose starting his third game in 12 days tomorrow.
“We could have replaced Robbie Henshaw with somebody else but we knew that he’d be on the cusp of being ready for the game this Thursday and he is, but we feel that Garry is fully fit and there’s less risk. The sooner we play Robbie, just with that hamstring, the more risk there is,” Schmidt explained.
Meanwhile, Russia coach Lyn Jones is anticipating an Ireland backlash and has warned his players this will be the toughest game they have faced.
The Welsh supremo has made eight changes to his team, with former UCD and Blackrock College full-back Vasily Artemyev captaining the side from No 15.
“We are facing probably the toughest challenge that Russian rugby has ever faced,” he said.
“We take on one of the best teams in the world, Ireland. The challenge is huge but the enthusiasm and confidence in our team is very good, and preparation has gone well.”
Jones anticipates an even more difficult task after watching Ireland lose to Japan last Saturday.
“The dynamic of Ireland preparation, team selection and performance would have changed dramatically following losing to Japan,” he said, speaking before Ireland named their own team.
“It’s important for us to stop their maul, stop their scrum, so that we can play and defend on the neutral terms.”
Russia have performed well in their games to date, causing problems against Japan and Samoa before fading.
Russia (team to face Ireland) – V Artemyev (capt); G Davydov, I Galinovskiy, K Golosnitskiy, D Simlikevich; R Gaisin, D Perov; A Polivalov, E Matveev, K Gotovtsev; A Garbuzov, B Fedotko; A Sychev, T Gadzhiev, V Gresev. Reps: S Selskii, V Morozov, V Podrezov, A Osrtikov, E Elgin, S Ianiushkin, R Khodin, V Ostoushko.