Friday 20 July 2018

'They're going to be dangerous' - Joe Schmidt fires England warning as he urges young guns to seize the moment

Ireland’s Tadhg Furlong bursts through the tackle of Grant Gilchrist
during Ireland’s victory over Scotland. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland’s Tadhg Furlong bursts through the tackle of Grant Gilchrist during Ireland’s victory over Scotland. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ireland have their third title in five seasons and nobody can take that away from them. Now they must go and make history.

As well as securing them the Six Nations trophy, Saturday's win propelled them to second in the World Rugby rankings, set a record for consecutive wins by an Irish team and landed a firm blow over a World Cup opponent.

In normal seasons, each of those facts would merit reflection in its own right, but this is no ordinary campaign - from the moment Johnny Sexton struck that drop goal at the end of 41 phases in Paris, this has been special.

The Grand Slam beckons; a chance to join the men of 1948 and 2009 and the women of 2013 in the most elite club in Irish rugby's history books.

Rob Kearney and Rory Best can become the first Irishmen to achieve two clean sweeps, while for the likes of Johnny Sexton, Peter O'Mahony and Conor Murray it's an opportunity to achieve something to match their contribution to the Irish game.

It's been a magical campaign, but for it to end with Rory Best sheepishly raising the trophy at an emptying Twickenham after a defeat would unquestionably suck the life right out of it.

It may not be fair, the title is a substantial achievement in its own right, but that's the reality.

Ireland have enjoyed the party pooping role when it's been their turn to deny England a Slam in 2001, 2011 and 2017. Now, the shoe is firmly on the other foot.

For eight of the starting line-up on Saturday, this is their first taste of Six Nations glory. Seven of the match-day 23 don't know what it's like to lose an international.

Johnny Sexton admitted that when he was a wider squad member during the 2009 season he presumed his time would come. Almost a decade later, he has two titles but has never won a Slam or even a Triple Crown. Indeed, Ireland have failed to put themselves in this position since Cardiff.

"James Ryan doesn't know what it's like to lose a Six Nations, there's kids like that who need to understand what Johnny said," Schmidt acknowledged.

"They need to understand that this doesn't happen very often. This is incredibly tough to do and the opportunity that exists next week is really precious."

Schmidt has never beaten England at Twickenham in three attempts. Their last defeat at the venue came against Australia during the 2015 World Cup,

Eddie Jones has won all 14 home games of his tenure. His team are enduring their first crisis, two successive losses on the road have undermined the supreme confidence that they've exuded under the brash Australian.

Winning in London has never come easily to Irish teams, their last success was a Tommy Bowe-inspired victory in 2010.

England have been poor in their defeats to Scotland and France, they are under serious scrutiny for the first time since Jones took charge and a number of their senior players are looking tired.

Sabotage

Yet, they are a dangerous opponent for Ireland. Motivation will not be in short supply, they need to get back to winning ways to finish the tournament on some sort of positive note and they will have fresh memories of Ireland's sabotage of their own celebrations last season.

Schmidt is fully aware of what's coming.

"I think they're going to be really dangerous," he said.

"The personnel that they have, I've seen them play often enough, I actually watched them train with the Lions and they have an exceptional level.

"They have extreme pace, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Jonny May. They have players that have that sort of speed, they have great experience in their halves with Danny Care, the amount of caps he's got and the same with George Ford and Owen Farrell.

"Up front, the real experience they have. I don't know if Dylan Hartley will be back but Jamie George deputising for him today, you know that he's a fantastic player and was in the Lions being selected as a top quality starting player.

"Across the board, you know how tough that is going to be. "They're wounded, but they're far from dead and buried.

"They'll have a really resilient resolve to come back, bounce back and beat us next week."

The stakes are high, but Schmidt believes the enormity of the task of beating England alone will focus the minds.

"This is just us against them," he said. "I think there is a degree of certainty around that and it means you can focus yourself a bit more, they know we are coming and they are going to be ready for us.

"We've got to get over there and hit our A-game right from the start, because there's going to be an extraordinary resolve amongst that English contingent after those two away losses.

"For a team who had lost one game in 25 to suddenly be at 27 games and be on the back of back-to-back losses, that is going to make them incredibly keen to make sure that they deny us what we denied them last year."

Although he said there were no injuries, there were plenty of sore bodies and the hope is that Cian Healy and Garry Ringrose came away unscathed after receiving treatment.

Sexton is carrying a lower back/gluteal issue that limited his training as late as Wednesday and while he was below his best on Saturday he remains a key influence on this team.

For the coach, the achievement of achieving three titles in five seasons cannot be overlooked.

Focus

The Slam becomes the focus now, but the consistency of performance needed to achieve this result is beyond anything Ireland have managed previously and he was rightly proud of the effort.

"To be honest, 2014 is still probably - dare I say it - the most special because we won it the moment we finished the game," Schmidt added.

"We won it with the guys on the pitch at the time.

"Since then, 2015, we were in suits shouting at Uini Atonio to keep the ball and not let it squirt out because England might score and the championship could be lost so we are cheering on one team to beat another, we had no control.

"And today was a little bit similar, same two teams, different result and a different result for us but to give us that clear air to go to Twickenham with the championship.

"For me personally it is an incredible relief personally and it is incredibly satisfying because of how hard the players have worked.

"Honestly, they are a great hard-working bunch and I'll probably even broaden that to the management.

"I know, fair play to Johnny, he mentioned them but the nutritional team, the medical staff... we had even Barnhall rugby guys down at Carton House helping the staff clear a pitch so we could get half a pitch to train on Monday.

"You know that is the kind of community support we have and then there is the support in the Aviva we have which again was super today, was super two weeks ago especially against Wales

"When it came down to the last few seconds of the match so they are all incredibly special because, if five years ago when I started this job you'd asked me, I would have taken one out of the five because they are so tough to win.

"So it is incredibly satisfying to see these guys be rewarded for the effort we made."

That satisfaction at the title win will give way to a desire for a moment to match any other in the Schmidt era.

To win a Grand Slam by beating England in Twickenham on St Patrick's Day would surpass any other.

This is the big one.

Irish Independent

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