Sunday 18 March 2018

Schmidt sets sights on South Africa tour

Ireland 35 Scotland 25

CJ Stander dives over a maul to score Ireland’s opening try on Saturday despite the best efforts of Scotland’s Tommy Seymour (left) and Ryan Wilson (No 8). Photo: Getty
CJ Stander dives over a maul to score Ireland’s opening try on Saturday despite the best efforts of Scotland’s Tommy Seymour (left) and Ryan Wilson (No 8). Photo: Getty
Devin Toner uses all his stretching ability and determination to reach over and score his team’s fourth try. Photo: Sportsfile
Jared Payne on the move. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Though it felt like the last day of school as the scuffles broke out down on the Aviva Stadium turf, Joe Schmdt was already looking towards the next term after the game.

Ireland have not won a Test match in South Africa in seven attempts, never mind a series win, but the New Zealander will be targeting a little bit of history when he takes charge again in June.

For all that they were satisfied with their last two performances against Italy and Scotland, the sight of Dylan Hartley lifting the Six Nations trophy to the Parisian sky should galvanise their minds.

For all of the sucess of the last two seasons, England have gone one better than Schmidt's side and claimed a Grand Slam at Eddie Jones' first attempt.

It is the first time since 2011 that the Kiwi hasn't added to his medal collection, but, with last autumn's World Cup still fresh in the mind, some success against the three Rugby Championship giants - who Ireland play six times in their next seven games - would be a clear mark of progress.


Any Ireland players hoping to take a break when Ulster, Leinster and Munster are free on European weekends may have to cancel their plans as Schmidt will look to hold a camp as he integrates his new defence coach ahead of the tour.

"What we'll do is we'll go back through and Andy Farrell will come in, and it will give him an opportunity as well to kind of contribute particularly on how we've defended and what we need to improve there and on what we've done when we've had the ball. It's not something I'd do on the spur of the moment," Schmidt said when asked for his 'work-ons'.

"I'll look back on all five games. I'll probably look at the other games that were played as well and see how other teams coped against each other and try to just rationalise what are the priorities for us.

"The one thing you don't want to do is make this pot pourri and pull a bit from all over the place and not have a clear direction. You want to have a clear list of priorities that you make sure you are delivering on and work from there.

"One of the luxuries that is afforded an international coach is that we do have a couple of weeks before we have to work through each of the individual one-on-ones.

"We'll probably grab one of those weeks that would have been otherwise used in Europe and catch up with the players. That will give us time to have maybe some specific priorities for individuals and then we'll build the team priorities prior to going to South Africa."

Saturday's win over Scotland, combined with France's defeat to England, handed Ireland the third-placed finish that Schmidt himself predicted before the tournament but the performance - particularly before half-time - showed that the men in green remain one of the best coached sides in international rugby.

"They were true to themselves," Scotland coach Vern Cotter said of his old friend's team.

"They have a very good kicking game, they work your backfield and try to get you into your 22. They are a set phase team. Today they played two phases and then they would sweep back the other way. They are a smart team.

"I would like to be able to play the whole game with 15 players on the field and see what the result would have been. But there's not much point in thinking about that.

"Joe's a top coach and a top bloke.His record speaks for itself."

Ireland exploited the periods when John Barclay and Alex Dunbar were in the sin-bin either side of half-time by running in three of their four tries.

A piece of magic from Stuart Hogg briefly put Cotter's men in front, but Keith Earls' opportunistic effort was swiftly followed by CJ Stander's second try in a week as the home side led 21-13 at the interval.

Conor Murray added to his collection of close-range finishes after the break and, for all the Scottish huff and puff they couldn't quite get close enough to make it a tight finish as Devin Toner's first Ireland try cancelled out Richie Gray's effort before Dunbar grabbed a late consolation.

It was bad tempered at times as it became apparent that these teams don't like each other very much, but the niggle was long forgotten in the aftermath as thoughts turned to the summer.

For all that Schmidt will exploit the lack of Champions Cup action by hosting a get-together, the head coach lamented the lack of big game action for his players in the run-in - even at the end of such a long season.

"The group that started in June and then went to the World Cup is very different to the group we've got currently," he said.

"The best thing for us always is when those teams are playing in Europe, especially the play-offs in Europe. That's the closest thing we can get to Test preparation. That's the closest thing a player coming through can get as a stepping stone to full Test match rugby because there is a difference.

"Hopefully, there will be a bounce-back next year. I know there is a real willingness even internally from the players here to get back to their provinces and help them as best they can.

"The derby games have a real edge to them and when you match up who is going to be playing, I know that Connacht-Leinster next week is going to be a humdinger. I'm looking forward to the game. In the midfield you may well have a Robbie Henshaw and a Garry Ringrose in amongst a Ben Te'o and a Bundee Aki potentially.

"You may well see a Matt Healy come up against a Dave Kearney, who was going well against France until his shoulder got knocked.

"It's never a perfect world, so whatever you want to be the case is seldom the case entirely, so you've got to mix and match as best you can."

The Six Nations didn't go to plan, but there is still plenty of rugby to come. Schmidt has already switched his focus forward and he has history on his mind.

IRELAND - S Zebo; A Trimble, J Payne, R Henshaw, K Earls (F McFadden 79); J Sexton, C Murray (E Reddan 79); J McGrath (C Healy 68), R Best (capt)(R Strauss 68), M Ross (N White 63), D Ryan (U Dillane 70), D Toner, CJ Stander, T O'Donnell (R Ruddock 70), J Heaslip.

SCOTLAND - S Hogg; T Seymour, D Taylor, A Dunbar, T Visser (S Lamont 70); D Weir (P Horne 63), G Laidlaw (capt); A Dickinson (R Sutherland 67), R Ford (S McInally 51), W Nel (M Low 68), R Gray, T Swinson (R Harley 64), J Barclay, J Hardie (J Strauss 53), R Wilson.

REF - P Gauzere (France).

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