Monday 14 October 2019

'Joe isn't going to cuddle the players' - Ex-Ireland flanker Chris Henry reckons calm Schmidt can restore Ireland's confidence

Ireland boss Joe Schmidt. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland boss Joe Schmidt. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Chris Henry was a mainstay of the Irish set-up during the early years of Joe Schmidt's regime and so he has a decent idea of what it has been like behind the scenes as the squad look to rediscover their Six Nations form with a big finish.

The recently retired former Ulster flanker certainly isn't expecting the New Zealander to adopt a warm and fuzzy approach, but he reckons his cool and calm demeanour will stand to the team.

Ireland opened the Championship with a sobering loss to England and they've been less than impressive in their wins over Scotland and Italy since.

Schmidt looks set to recall a host of big names to his side for the visit of France on Sunday and Henry reckons he'll have restored confidence behind the scenes.

"He's not going to cuddle the players at all!" he said of the coach.

"I think Joe understands everyone's human, a lot of the squad are so young, dealing with high expectations.

"He'll know when to prod in certain ways, when to pull back in other ways. He's the coolest and calmest out of anyone in that squad, so I don't think he'll be using what's going on outside as a motivating factor at all, I really don't.

"He'll just keep doing what he's been doing, he knows what works for him, he won't change the world, he doesn't need to. A good start would be brilliant, early line break or a big hit...

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"He's such a cool, calm guy I dont think he'll be as flustered as everyone else is.

"We were talking about the untouchables in this team the 5,6,7 players - you can guess who they are, but it's those players who are kind of taking heat at the moment, and it's probably the first time they've felt that."

Former International Chris Henry teams up with Volkswagen, a proud partner of Irish Rugby, ahead of Ireland v France #ReadyForMore.
Former International Chris Henry teams up with Volkswagen, a proud partner of Irish Rugby, ahead of Ireland v France #ReadyForMore.

Henry says Ireland need to focus on the positives this week.

"Just try not to put too much pressure on themselves, they have to remember what it's about and take this game on its own context; it's France at home, in Dublin... I loved playing France," he said.

"We've had good results in recent years... good time to get them, they did well against Scotland, but for those players who have been under heat, this is the best opportunity to go out and enjoy it, embrace it and try not to get too uptight.

"As we saw against Italy, once one mistake happens, it leads on's easier said than done, but they've just to try and not get too uptight."

With CJ Stander fit again, Schmidt looks set to re-jig his back-row when he names his team later today.

Seán O'Brien appears likely to miss out on selection with Josh van der Flier returning to the starting XV.

Henry, however, has been impressed by the Tullow Tank since he returned from injury.

"If you look at Sean O'Brien's career, if he picked up an injury he'd be thrown in and every time he seemed to deliver," he said.

"This Six Nations I went 'surely he can't do that again', but because of the England game, the way that worked, and the way the players were talking 'oh we are flat, we'd no energy', I thought Seán was amazing.

"He was fitter than I thought he'd be, played 65 minutes of that game (against Scotland) and I was watching, wondering when he's going to drop off.

"He didn't drop of until the very end, I've seen him less fit - so if confidence is low now and the team need those inspirational figure heads, to take some heat off Pete (O'Mahony), Johnny (Sexton) and Rory (Best) - three big leaders, you have to start Seánie if he's good to go.

"I'd have picked Jordi (Murphy on the bench), I've seen a lot of him with Ulster this season, and it would have been a nice reward for Jordi to be given more opportunity.

"The problem is he was thrown in at No 8 (against Italy), and I think he's a No 7 or a No 6, and that's really been unfortunate for him that his chances come at 8.

"Josh reminds me of myself. I'd have 100% faith in him, week in week out, love the way he plays, I think he's a workhorse, so you know he'll play the same in minute one and minute 80, that's kinda how I felt I was in my career.

"I was never on the bench, I either started or I wasn't in the squad. I wasn't a player - a Seán Cronin, who comes off the bench and sets the place alight.

"That's probably the problem with Josh, if you have him on the bench, is he going to set the game differently off the bench in the last 20 minutes... so it's difficult to know who's there, if Seán O'Brien starts 7.

"With Dan Leavy injured the other option is you could load second rows, Iain Henderson could do a job, Tadhg Beirne, I'd throw those two straight in. At times, those one or two extra feet make a big difference."

Former International Chris Henry teams up with Volkswagen, a proud partner of Irish Rugby, ahead of Ireland vs France #ReadyForMore. Test your skills to win at Volkswagen's Aviva Stadium fan zones this Sunday. For more information follow Volkswagen Ireland's social channels.

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