Monday 11 December 2017

Schmidt: European experience vital for Ireland to increase talent pool

Joe Schmidt and Fergus McFadden are joined by Brendan Mullins (6) and Mark Casey (9) at Lansdowne FC to announce the return of the Ulster Bank League Awards.
Joe Schmidt and Fergus McFadden are joined by Brendan Mullins (6) and Mark Casey (9) at Lansdowne FC to announce the return of the Ulster Bank League Awards.
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

"You can't come that close and not deliver the final bit."

It might be Heineken Cup week, but the cloud of New Zealand still lingers over Irish rugby.

Joe Schmidt was back at the scene of the crime, once again revisiting what he described as unequivocally his worst defeat in rugby.

The Heineken Cup will help move the agenda on, while the Pro12 provincial derbies over the Christmas period should be a cleansing experience.

By the time February rolls around, the desperate disappointment will, hopefully, have faded in the wing mirrors.

Now, it is about picking through the wreckage and accentuating the positives.

Schmidt will reflect on what Ireland did so well for much of that tilt at history and must try to make sure that, when they take the field against Scotland for their Six Nations opener, they bring some of the many positives from the defeat to the world champions.

"The more the better, to be honest, because a heck of a lot of it was really good stuff," Schmidt said at the launch of the Ulster Bank League awards.


"There was some great accuracy at the breakdown, to keep (Richie) McCaw out of the way, (Steven) Luatua off the ball, even big Brodie Retallick, who is good on the ball, and Andrew Hore – to keep those guys off the ball was really effective.

"There was some good continuity and good shape attacking-wise. The more of it we can replicate the better. The phenomenal support is also something we would like see repeated.

"I have never been in the Aviva Stadium with such a volume of noise.

"The cacophony in those last few minutes, it should have been enough to lift the players.

"We couldn't quite get there, but if we can replicate that as well, I just think we can have an event that, hopefully, can be a successful game of rugby and an enjoyable spectator occasion as well."

After a couple of years in which the new stadium just didn't feel quite like home for the Irish rugby team, there was a rebirth of sorts in that hectic 81.5 minutes.

Can they hit those heights again and bring the crowd with them? Schmidt thinks so.

"I think we can play to that level. Is that good enough to win the Six Nations? I can't say because I don't know what the other teams are going to bring," he said.

"The thing I felt was that half the supporters were there to support Ireland and half were there because they love to watch the All Blacks as they are the best team in the world and were going for 14 out of 14.

"I think the challenge for the Irish rugby player is to be able to deliver what we delivered against the All Blacks so that people come to watch Ireland regardless of who they are playing.

"That's a massive challenge for the team and if they step up and accept it, then people have something to be excited about and the players will also be uplifted. It's kind of a reciprocal relationship that one engenders an increase in the other."

In the bowels of the stadium on that fateful Sunday afternoon, Schmidt confirmed that the month of November was all about the Six Nations and he spent much of that time trying to enhance the experience of the young members of his squad, while also looking to win games.

After last season's injury struggles, the coach is determined to expand his player base and give himself more depth to call on in the spring and he hopes to see as many of those young players as possible shine in the European games coming up.

"There were 29 players involved on the field and 31 different players selected (in the November internationals)," he explained.

"New Zealand used 40 players in their unbeaten 14 match series. We might not be able to get to 40, but we've got to be able to grow from a world-class hub into a wider group that are really competent playing in the international arena.

"Stats say that 20pc of your squad are going to be injured at any one time. Therefore you've got to have sufficient players to cover that. We saw that in the Six Nations last year.

"They've got to get that (experience) in the next two weeks and over the two weeks in early January in the big Heineken Cup matches – because that's the level.

"It's great for the younger guys to get Pro12 experience. But, because Irish provinces are fantastically competitive in the Heineken Cup, I think the good guys get a really good level of preparation through that.

"We've got to utilise that because we don't play 14 tests like the All Blacks do. We don't have 30 Tests before the World Cup like the All Blacks.

"We've got to maximise the provincial experience and try to flick it into the national team."

Irish Independent

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