Joe Schmidt sends World Cup warning ahead of crucial England clash
Coach says any drop in standards can have ramifications for Japan
Joe Schmidt has warned that a drop in performance in the Six Nations could have ramifications for Ireland at the World Cup.
The departing head coach is targeting a top-two finish in this year's tournament and wants his champions to attack their attempt to win two in a row rather than defend their title.
He goes into his final championship having won three in five attempts and his team are odds-on favourites to retain the trophy after claiming the Grand Slam last season.
That is based on their exceptional 2018 performances that culminated in a famous win over New Zealand in November.
Although the World Cup is the primary goal for the year ahead, Schmidt warned against getting too caught up in long-term thinking at the expense of short-term results.
"You play England in 10 days, you don't think too much about a World Cup because I think the danger is you can damage a World Cup - your confidence, your expectation, your momentum, just because you look too far ahead and don't give due respect to what is one of the biggest teams in world rugby. You are just opening yourself up for an opportunity for them to take advantage of you," he said, before being asked if a successful Six Nations is the best preparation for a successful World Cup.
"Yeah, and I think it is not simplistic and it is a bit more holistic for us.
"A good Six Nations is how did we go training, who impressed us training, who worked their way through and forced their way into a match-day squad who hadn't played for us before, all those elements, I think they are really important.
"So is the on-field visible 40 minutes followed by the other 40 but there is the regular real stress opportunity that comes with being in camp for seven weeks."
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Asked what a successful Six Nations looks like, Schmidt said a place in the top two would suffice.
"One that we can integrate these new guys," he said. "One that we can play at the top of our game.
"I know people always want something concrete.
"Something that is objective or result-based, and as I said last year, if we can get in the top two you know you are in the mix.
"You know that if you are in the top two, and we have just spoken about how competitive some of those teams are, I think we can keep our confidence that we are still on the right track.
"There are so many variables that you don't control in the game.
"To have three out of five (titles)... I've been incredibly lucky to be involved in a period that has been really strong for Irish rugby.
"And to have those three, we'd love to add another one if we can, but I know that there is five other coaches here today (at the tournament launch) that are very, very motivated to do exactly the same thing."
As champions, his team are the team to beat but Schmidt wants them to go out and attack the task at hand.
"I think you have got to go hunting, so if we are hunted that's fine," he said.
"But we have got to go hunting as well. We have to make sure we have everything nailed on, that we are really well prepared, that we know what our play looks like and, no doubt, the play of others – so we will have a good look at the England side when it comes out."