Friday 23 February 2018

Replacements' form is a bonus for Schmidt

Joe Schmidt enjoyed an easy day at the office Photo: Sportsfile
Joe Schmidt enjoyed an easy day at the office Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Joe Schmidt reflected on one of his easiest days at the office as Irish coach but his satisfaction must have been tinged with some regret at what might have been following his side's opening-day defeat.

Nevertheless, he spied the key elements of a dominant opening to the nine-try romp against Italy from the ultimately fruitless comeback launched in Edinburgh last weekend.

"The most satisfying thing is we got elements of the performance that we had managed in Scotland in the second half, so we maintained a lot of that and built on the consistency of it. We built on a good start and delivered on that."

With Rory Best ruled out at 11.30am with a stomach bug, he and his side responded to the distraction much better than they had to last week's traffic-induced faux pas.

Mercifully, the hapless Italians were willing accomplices to a much more dynamic and forceful Irish display from the opening minute.

"It's good to have those challenges and they come in all shapes and sizes," Schmidt said. "So to have that thrown at you and show you can seamlessly slot guys in . . . Once we ruled Rory out this morning, reasonably late, we didn't focus on him afterwards - even though he is important.

"It was about Niall Scannell and James Tracy, who flew in on Friday night, so your focus has to switch - but I'll be confident Rory will be fine this week when he returns to camp."

Robert Kearney (bicep) and Robbie Henshaw (elbow) also departed from the fray prematurely but the Irish camp are hopeful that the pair suffered only bruising as they wait 48 hours to assess further.

Ireland's bench was a significant factor, with Craig Gilroy joining CJ Stander with a hat-trick of tries; Stander the first Irish forward to do so since 1999 and Gilroy the first replacement at Test level to do so this century.

"Hopefully, now we have a few headaches in terms of selection," said Schmidt, whose side are now back in the Championship mix ahead of the visit of France in a fortnight.

"It is hard to tell what impact the bonus point will have unless Scotland remain unbeaten. It wouldn't have changed much in the last decade or so. For us, it's about getting the right performances and the right results.

"CJ Stander was really good aside from the tries and the tactical kicking, his assist for Craig, off the side of his foot, attaching the relevant spin, was a thing of beauty.

"He got through a volume of defensive work. He's a really positive and willing contributor. Craig had a mixed bag. We learned that some guys could get good experience, Niall Scannell stepped up the mark in scrum and lineout and James Tracy, also in his Six Nations debut, did well.

"Their confidence will grow among players in the right frame of mind and allow them to be more comfortable at this level, because it is quite suffocating.

"Some of them were taken aback by it last week because it is different compared to autumn."

Heaslip had a trouble-free day as captain, despite losing the toss, and his decision to turn down early kickable penalties was handsomely rewarded.

"We were a lot more clinical, we held on to the ball and went through good phases. We were happy to maintain possession and get the result. We kept our focus at all times. We're not looking ahead too far, we have France next and that will be our next focus."

Italian coach Conor O'Shea was disheartened as his first encounter with his former country ended in a record Six Nations defeat, saying: "We will have better days but also hard days like this as we work through to where we need to be. Today was incredibly hard, we made some set-piece mistakes which invited pressure and we talked about Ireland's ability to hold the ball for prolonged phases. So we suffered a physical and mental battering in the first half-hour, we made mistakes but credit to Ireland for being able to go through those phases in the first place."

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