Saturday 16 December 2017

'He could come into the picture' - Joe Schmidt refuses to rule Johnny Sexton out of Rome trip

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt ahead of the RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Scotland and Ireland at BT Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, Scotland. Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt ahead of the RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Scotland and Ireland at BT Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, Scotland. Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Ireland’s team bus proved to be as slow as some of their players for the opening half-hour yesterday but Joe Schmidt refused to blame his side’s late arrival to Murrayfield for the 30-minute horror show when they 21-5 behind.

“We arrived around fifteen minutes late to the stadium and we were late to most things in that first-half,” lamented Schmidt, even though his side stay a mere 20 minutes away from the ground.

“We were on time leaving the hotel, it is not an excuse for being late in the match. We just took our time getting here.

“We were sluggish. We had some good field position and didn’t convert. We were sluggish in closing their space down and we missed a few tackles.

“It’s far from ideal in terms of the championship. It’s a tough championship. We have a bonus point but we need to go to Italy and get five or six points from these two games and then get momentum for the rest of the championship.

“We knew they were dangerous but we fed their self-belief and they got more encouragement because they knew they could play against us.

“We just have to start better. When you deliver consistently in the past, you can’t have an expectation that it will necessarily happen all the time for you.”

Schmidt refused to rule the injury-prone out-half Jonathan Sexton out of next week’s trip to Rome and admitted that Paddy Jackson, like the rest of the team, performed better when on the front-foot in defence and attack.

“I’m not sure at this stage. Johnny wasn’t far away and he could still come into the picture. This is different from what Paddy has done in the past, it was tough when you’re not winning collisions.

“Finn Russell looked super with front-foot ball but not so much in the second-half when we were on the front foot.

“We were too slow getting the ball to him, there were a lot of bodies on the floor, Conor Murray was reaching over people and it was difficult for him and he always felt crowded.

“You make your own luck. When we made line-breaks in the second-half, we didn’t get the separation we needed. Rob Kearney put a foot in touch, they got to the ball after Jamie Heaslip broke clear, the same with Sean O’Brien.

“They are three crucial line-breaks and that could have given us breathing space. At 22-12, we knew the game was far from over. We needed another score because we knew they could come. We had those clutch moments."

Captain Rory Best echoed his coach’s frustrations.

“Almost everything we talked about doing, we didn’t do. We were narrow in defence, we didn’t get front-foot ball.

“The only good thing we recognised at half-time was that we knew we could start doing that. It was just difficult to start like that and have Finn Russell with the space to throw 20 or 30-yard passes.

“We prepared well during the week and although we were late and stuff, everyone had these scenarios and you have to rely on your preparation.

Meanwhile, Scotland, who had to witness Irish celebrations on this ground two years ago when Schmidt’s men romped to a title win, were beaming after their first opening day win since 2004.

Captain Greig Laidlaw described his 74th minute winning penalty as “what dreams are made of”. “I just told myself, ‘Don’t hit the post.

“That’s what dreams are made of, people singing the national anthem. The minute I hit it I knew it was over.

“There’s a change of mentality, we know what to do in tight games and what players to go to. We know how to build field position and build pressure and that’s what happened today, especially after we bounced back in the last 15 minutes or so.

“It would have been easy to cave in but we’re a changed group, we don’t want to be getting beaten any more. The messages were the same all the time, hold on to the ball. It worked for us in the first-half when we scored 21 points.

“We coughed up a couple when they pressed us and then when we fell behind I said to them under the posts, it was the same message; hold on to the ball.

“We’re delighted, it’s a great win and a great start to the championship.

Schmidt’s former boss at Clermont Auvergne finally nabbed a triumph against his Kiwi friend as he prepares to leave the job at the end of the season and declared this win the greatest of his three-year reign.

“I’m really happy for the players and it validates their will to succeed,” says Cotter, who insists ireland remain a title contender.

“It was nice to finish with a win! They will be a force to reckon with for the rest of the championship. There always has to be a winner and a loser.

“Ireland are a quality team and we stopped them playing today, they struggled to get any momentum. Our defence was making good decisions in wide channels.

“I will enjoy it for five minutes tonight and begin to work on France next week. It is only one game but we need to make sure we back it up.

“We had a good first-half and then we struggled in the second-half when they came up a bit harder and we turned over a bit of ball after they changed their defence.

“That lineout move was one of Jonathan Humphreys’ (forwards coach). I’m not so sure we should have used it today.

“We didn't start that well actually, we lost a lineout and scrum but then we became more accurate in attack and we had a few good plays to get over the line.

“We knew they would get stronger and although we defended well, we fell off a few tackles. It was nice to stop them scoring tries a few metres from the line, scrambled defence. It’s a good result..

When we got in their half, we scored when we had possession; except a few broken tackles, Ireland had more ball but didn’t get as much effectiveness from the attacks.

“We knew they would hold the ball, that was how they beat the All Blacks. It was reasonably well done. Defensively, it was one of our better games.”

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