Thursday 22 March 2018

Schmidt sticking to his guns for Six Nations opener

Coach rejects suggestions Irish game-plan is too conservative

Best foot forward: Ian Keatley, James Cronin, Robbie Henshaw, Tommy O’Donnell and Jared Payne at Carton House yesterday
Best foot forward: Ian Keatley, James Cronin, Robbie Henshaw, Tommy O’Donnell and Jared Payne at Carton House yesterday
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

JOE SCHMIDT has defended his team's style of play ahead of the opening game of their Six Nations campaign against Italy in Rome tomorrow.

Despite winning last year's tournament and beating South Africa and Australia, the Ireland coach has come in for some criticism for his team's perceived conservatism during the winter.

While he has spoken of his hopes to expand on the template to a degree with the return to fitness of Sean O'Brien and Cian Healy adding to his ball-carrying threat, he recently described the idea that his team play one way as a "misnomer", insisting that they unveil a new strategy to suit the conditions and opposition.

And, ahead of the first game, he said he would continue adopt the style he feels best to get the result.

"People have spoken a fair bit about style; I think in last year's Six Nations we scored the most tries, we scored the most points. I think in the autumn we still scored four tries against South Africa and Australia - the two big teams," he said.

"If you're doing that, then I think no matter which way you're doing that you are cutting your cloth and we tend to try to cut our cloth on a weekly basis - we tinker with what we're doing and we try and be effective in what we do."

Schmidt yesterday named his team along expected lines and is confident they can get their defence under way with a win over Italy.

Ian Keatley is named at fly-half, while Sean O'Brien is at openside flanker in a rejigged back-row as he makes an earlier-than-planned return to international rugby.

Schmidt has re-united Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne in midfield, while Mike Ross continues his sequence of starting every one of the New Zealander's games in charge to date despite falling out of favour at Leinster.

And with Jamie Heaslip, Eoin Reddan and Cian Healy set to be back for the St Valentine's Day clash with France - for which Johnny Sexton is also due back although details of his consultation with his neurologist could not be established last night - Ireland will be confident of growing stronger as the tournament progresses.

Heaslip trained at Carton House yesterday as he continues to recover from the shoulder injury he suffered against Ulster, although there are unconfirmed reports that he may have a knee problem to confound his woes.

Ireland travelled to Rome yesterday ahead of Saturday's game and will train at the Stadio Olimpico this afternoon as they put the finishing touches to their plan of attack against a tricky Italian side. Wales and England get the tournament up and running in Cardiff tonight.

Irish Independent

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