Wednesday 16 January 2019

Joe Schmidt comes out fighting against his critics - and he has the stats to back up his argument

Joe Schmidt
Joe Schmidt
Bundee Aki pictured at Carton House yesterday ahead of tomorrow's game against Scotland Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

If you want the ball in play for longer, stop us scoring tries. That was the message from Joe Schmidt who had a detailed response ready yesterday when recent comments from Wales coach Warren Gatland and Scotland assistant Mike Blair were put to him.

Gatland posited the theory that the low ball-in-play statistic had contributed to his team's defeat to Ireland, and his fellow New Zealander was ready to dismiss the suggestion.

Joe Schmidt Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Joe Schmidt Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

By now, Scotland have weighed in on the issue with Blair calling on referee Wayne Barnes to help their case when it comes to keeping the tempo of the game up.

The ball-in-play statistic was remarkably low for the Ireland v Wales match, just 32:57, but Schmidt explains that number away quite convincingly as he adds the eight tries scored, the kicks at goal and other incidents which all take time away from the game.

And he threw in the fact that the low-scoring England v Wales game earlier in this championship had both the highest ball-in-play and the highest kicking in the tournament to date for good measure, with England eventually winning 12-6.

Schmidt had earlier railed against the perception that his team are overly direct in their approach and pointed to some excellent approach play and the increase in offloads his side have produced in this campaign.

He could just as easily have pointed to the table where his team sit five points clear of England with a superior points difference after their three wins so far. And the low ball-in-play statistics are not something that overly concern him.

"It's funny you mention that, because the highest game minutes was a game where there was very few passes made, where I think there was about 30 more kicks than any other game," he said. "You can keep the ball in play all you like and play no rugby.

"I think it's one of those things that might fit snugly in summarising a game but it's probably a truism that you can make stats say anything you like.

"There is a huge correlation between penalty kicks at goal, penalty kicks awarded, tries scored and game minutes. That negative correlation: the more tries that are scored, the more conversions have to be taken.

"You imagine, eight tries in a game... you can take probably 8-10 minutes out of a game by the time it's all muddled around a little bit. Then it becomes a 70-minute game.

"If they stop us scoring tries then they will get more game minutes.

"We missed four shots at goal, plus we got a couple of shots at goal. Leigh Halfpenny got five of six or something, so there were a few penalty shots as well, a few penalties given up.

"If you get a penalty and you kick for the corner, kick to touch, then that's probably 30 seconds that are dead there.

"So, two ways to have more ball-in-play time is not to have too many tries and not to have too many penalties, the other way is not to kick the ball out. Have lots of kicks, but keep them all inside the white lines.


"That's a different perspective on the same statistical facts."

Earlier, when the cameras were rolling, Schmidt rejected the suggestion that his side had relied on one-out runners and direct rugby against Wales.

"It's ironic you say that," he replied.

"I would probably challenge people to do a little bit more homework and probably not follow the lead of someone who statistically doesn't balance up with what's said.

"I think there was some really good tight play and some stuff that went through the middle but there was some stuff down the edges as well - Keith Earls's line break, Johnny's line break, Jacob Stockdale in the corner; certainly that wasn't a one-pass play. It's two of the best passes you'll see in world rugby. We've got to keep that variety to our game.

"At this stage we have made the third most offloads. It's an area people have loved to beat us with a stick and it's probably overlooked that there is some continuity to our play."

The suggestion from Gatland was that his team would back their fitness against Ireland who have lost the final quarter in three of their last four games.

Victory was secured each time, but the head coach is determined to get more from a bench strengthened by the presence of Andrew Porter, Iain Henderson, Jordi Murphy and Jordan Larmour.

They out-scored Italy 14-12 from the 60th minute on, but Argentina (3-12), France (3-7) and Wales (10-14) all got more reward on the scoreboard during the final quarter.

And although he admits they have little scope to work together due to the limited training time, Schmidt wants more from the men Eddie Jones would call his finishers.

"We'd like to (finish strongly) and we know that we can," he said. "We've proven that a number of times. While we lost the last quarter against France, we won the last moment of play that allowed us to get the result that we needed.

"We have still run away from teams in the last quarter, a good example is South Africa. That's recent enough. The frustration around Argentina is that they scored the last couple of tries.

"Trying to balance that up, it's really just about being as seamless as we can when we integrate players and that they boost the level across the team, not individually.

"That's a really important challenge for us.'

On a 10-game winning streak and with a title on the line, Schmidt is in a strong position to tweak and improve to get his side into the winner's enclosure for the third time in five years.

Few will care about the direct approach or the ball-in-play numbers if he does.

Irish Independent

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