Friday 14 December 2018

Frustrated Joe Schmidt hits back at critics of Irish attack and blames Warren Gatland for creating negative perception

Joe Schmidt and (inset) Warren Gatland
Joe Schmidt and (inset) Warren Gatland
Joe Schmidt is hoping that he and his players will have plenty to smile about after tomorrow’s clash with Wales. Photo: PA
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Wars of words are not in Joe Schmidt's nature, but the coach yesterday expressed his frustration at the perception that his team is struggling with their cutting edge.

And the New Zealander stated his belief that comments from Warren Gatland have been adopted by his critics and used as a stick to beat his side.

Ireland have struggled to convert possession into points against the Welsh in recent seasons and in 2015, after his team had won a World Cup warm-up at Lansdowne Road, Gatland was critical of the Irish attacking game.

"I don't think Ireland play a lot of rugby," he said.

Three years on, the comments still rankle with the Ireland coach who has railed against the idea that his side lack an attacking cutting edge.

He can point to examples like the five-try win over New Zealand as proof of their ability to cross the whitewash, but in the white heat of Six Nations battle against the likes of England and Wales they can often struggle to break opponents down.

Last season, they forced Wales into making 185 tackles and made eight line-breaks, but couldn't score a try.

It might not have been a factor had Robbie Henshaw not joined a maul in front of Rory Best in the seconds before the captain touched down, but in the end an inability to convert pressure into points cost Ireland. Yet Schmidt rejects the notion that the attack is an issue.

"Sometimes it is frustrating because there is all this opportunity, one opposition coach (Gatland) has tried to create that story and people have picked it up without doing their own analysis," he said.

"I think there is a degree of frustration from our players, I am not sure why he would get more credence than (Argentina coach) Daniel Hourcade who was really impressed or (former Springboks boss) Allister Coetzee who was really impressed.

"It is not generally one summary way that you play. If the forecast is a bit up and down for Saturday... yes, we didn't score a try in Paris but we found a way.

"In a Test match that's what you have to do sometimes. Did we control most of that game? I think we did.

"Apart from one moment in the 72nd minute when Teddy Thomas got space up the touchline and suddenly then you are chasing the game.

"But certainly we worked hard enough and you even look at that five minutes of phases, there was kicks that got re-gathered, there was forwards carrying, backs carrying, there was a little bit of width...

"There was a lot of movement to get to where we needed to be. So, I just think that the players are going to get out there, they are going to enjoy the opportunity to put their mark on the game and they are going to collectively try to destabilise the Welsh and I think if people look back they will see that that has happened in the past."

Although he was clearly concerned by the loss of Lions Robbie Henshaw, Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson to injury, Schmidt was keen to keep the focus on the players who are fit to play.

He hopes to have Furlong and Henderson back for the concluding games against Scotland and England and tomorrow is all about keeping the show on the road for those games. Between them, the side has a healthy 604 caps but the distribution is not very equal with an experienced core of nine having played 577 times between them and a new batch of six having just 27.

And the coach wants the experienced campaigners to set the example for the coterie of recent additions who are facing the biggest game of their careers to date.

"The experienced player has to make sure they do their bit right because it is not going to ask more of the inexperienced player," he said. "That is what all players try to achieve. If I know where I am meant to be in the defensive line, where I'm at, who I'm shifting to, who I am squaring up at, then whether they are experienced or not (doesn't matter).

"We probably will not focus on that, albeit sometimes when you are selecting, you want to have some experience around inexperienced players because when you are out there and things are happening as fast as they tend to in a Test match, you can get spooked.

"You can get put off balance, and you can get uncomfortable.

"It is a balance but you've got to have confidence in those inexperienced players stepping up and keeping their confidence hopefully based on their involvements in the game, not just the players playing around them in the game."

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