Wednesday 16 October 2019

'We are quite isolated this week... It's probably ideal'

Schmidt takes team out of concrete jungle to focus on Japan but talk of an inevitable quarter-final isn’t entertained

Joe Schmidt is keen for his Ireland players to give Japan total respect. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Joe Schmidt is keen for his Ireland players to give Japan total respect. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Day one of the 26-day phoney war ahead of the match we all know is going to happen on October 20.

Before Ireland play South Africa in the toughest quarter-final they've faced since meeting Australia in 1991, they must go through the process of paying due respect to Japan, Russia and Samoa and treating each game seriously.

In the giddy aftermath of Sunday's win over Scotland that set Joe Schmidt's side on a collision course with Rassie Erasmus's Springboks, there was a willingness to discuss the inevitable. Yesterday, that giddiness subsided and pragmatism reigned.

Before they departed Yokohama, Ireland put logistics man Ger Carmody and prop Cian Healy up for interview and the Leinster man wasn't about to go down the road of discussing any potential last-eight opponents.

Over in Nagoya, the Boks put forwards coach Matt Proudfoot up for interview and he claimed not to have seen Ireland's 27-3 win, although he subsequently offered a suspiciously clear analysis of the game.

Sparing

So, they dance around the topic in that way professional sportspeople do. Perhaps they are sparing us by refusing to engage, because a month of build-up would put anyone over the edge.

Ireland, of course, have the small matter of a six-day turnaround and a meeting with the hosts to focus their attention.

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They got the bullet train south to hot and sticky Shizuoka where they are staying at the Katsuragi Golf Club; a fact Schmidt has gone to the trouble of mentioning twice now in separate interviews.

After almost 10 days in the concrete jungle, it offers a change of pace.

Schmidt always gives opponents his full attention and, knowing the Japanese coaches Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown well, he will be wary of what they can produce in front of their home support.

"I was talking to a couple of my brothers who were at the game yesterday, and a whole bunch of supporters who were there, and they said to me, 'It must be great to play away and always play at home'," Schmidt said.

"'The Fields of Athenry' was being pumped out, it felt like a home stadium in Yokohama so hopefully there will be a few Irish who get to Shizuoka and get to Ecopa Stadium and get behind us.

"But I've no doubt the Japanese will have the majority of support, being the home nation.

"We're out at a country hotel, it's a very traditional Japanese hotel and we are quite isolated this week.

"So I think it's probably ideal for us not to have too many distractions, to be the sole occupants of a little and very traditional Japanese hotel in the week that we're playing Japan. It's probably a little bit unique."

Japan's highly-regarded coaching ticket is giving him food for thought.

"I always thought he was a really good player, Tony Brown, and a super competitor," he said of the former All Black. "I know his brother Cory as well, he was in Connacht and he's gone on and is doing a good job coaching in New Zealand.

"Tony Brown, when he was in Ireland, actually came in and spent three days with us in the national set-up - and it wasn't too long after that we ended up playing against a Tony Brown-coached side, along with Jamie Joseph, in 2017.

"He brings a real understanding of the game and a willingness to play, an encouragement to take a few risks but to be working hard enough on the skill base you have to be able to maximise the potential for those risks to have positive outcomes.

"He's a really good foil for Jamie, who's a pretty hard-nosed character and a top man and I think they've obviously done a terrific job."

Schmidt is considering changes for game two, but it seems unlikely that James Ryan and Conor Murray will be pulled out of the starting XV after the coach was impressed with what he saw from that duo in particular.

"He's able to physically impose himself a little bit more," he said of Ryan.

"He's always been a super athlete but two years ago he was kind of still finding his way but he's also taking more responsibility for the lineout.

"Defensively, he's just a workaholic. He works so hard that he makes the game easier for the players playing either side of him, so I'm sure there's things he's always working away on.

"That's one of the things that I admire most about him, he's certainly never satisfied with the performance.

"He's always looking to improve and I think the more players you can have like that, probably the better position you are in."

The coach honed in on Murray's role in Andrew Conway's try as a particular highlight.

"He actually called to Andrew that it was going to come back his way as he was going to that ruck," Schmidt recalled.

"For him to have that vision, that game sense, that it was going to unfold the way it did, was really important for us. It was the bonus-point try.

"Defensively, we know he's really reliable. I thought some of his kicking was great for us. In the conditions you need a little bit more of that kicking game, so all round I think Conor was relatively satisfied, as were we."

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