Monday 19 March 2018

Schmidt: England are 'tactically' different

Ireland coach braced for difficult challenge after noting changes under new coach Jones

as yet to experience the pressure cooker that is Twickenham. Photo: Adam Davy/PA.
as yet to experience the pressure cooker that is Twickenham. Photo: Adam Davy/PA.
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Joe Schmidt has so far resisted the temptation to rise to the bait left dangling by the shrewd Eddie Jones, with the Kiwi instead remaining focused on his attempts to plot Ireland's first win in four games.

Jones' suggestion that Ireland will look to play an Aussie Rules-type game at Twickenham on Saturday was shrugged off by Schmidt, who knows that he is facing an English side that have tactically moved on since the previous tenure.

England under Stuart Lancaster had become far too predictable in their patterns of play, and although they retained a strong set-piece, Schmidt has already noticed subtle changes in Jones' first two games in charge.

Ireland are without a win in their last three games and with the structure of their attack coming under increasing pressure, playing against a side who have not yet conceded a try in this year's Six Nations is likely to further highlight any flaws.

Ireland dominated England in the air in last season's meeting in Dublin and although Jones is expecting them to adopt a similar approach, Schmidt won't be naïve enough to think that their opponents won't be better prepared for that tactic this time around.

The World Cup may have been an unmitigated disaster for last year's hosts but as they return to the scene of the crime, Schmidt is anticipating a backlash.

"Aw definitely a tactical change, there's definitely different things that they're doing in the last two games as opposed to the last four years, which is a little bit frustrating because we kind of knew the shapes and the way that they played over the last few years," Schmidt admitted.


"Sometimes you couldn't stop that anyway because they played very, very well; they tended to play a couple of diamond shapes and had a lot of variety of those two shapes and so it was very hard to defend those.

"But at the same time you knew that the options were off them, so as long as you were astute you could try to defend them as best as you can with one v one with big Billy (Vunipola) or one of their real athletic guys with the elusive ability of a Mike Brown, Jack Nowell, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph.

"They are very dangerous in their back three or four, it doesn't really matter what shapes they play, they're going to be dangerous anyway.

"And they shift the ball very well, George Ford and Owen Farrell are two of the best passers in world rugby, so to transition from one point of attack to another point of attack is something they can do quite seamlessly, and they can do it off two incredibly elusive scrum-halves that have the passing game but also the running game that you can't leave them too early either.

"It's an exciting challenge, particularly on the back of us having a little bit of disappointment, particularly against France.

"Again, I think we've played in patches as well as anyone has but we've got nothing to show for it really. We need to desperately try and get something on the scoreboard."

Schmidt will have watched Cian Healy come through 67 minutes for Leinster on Saturday, while Mike Ross came off the bench and played 36 minutes in Cardiff.

Both props trained with Ireland last week before returning to their province in a bid to get more game-time under their belts following respective knee and hamstring injuries.

"We were thinking of bringing them in for the France game but with their time out of the game it would have been very difficult to put them in there," Schmidt explained.

"Also the lads that had been in there have been working very, very hard. We're incredibly disappointed in how the scrum was managed (by the officials) in the French game - anyone who does a close analysis of it will see why.

"We can't change that now and we've got to forge ahead and find our own solutions if they're not being refereed in the match."

Ross is likely to start on Saturday alongside Jack McGrath and Rory Best - the same front-row who started in Dublin last year.

Schmidt may have been reluctant to entertain Jones' mind games but he did typically plant a seed of doubt in referee Romain Poite's head.

"We've had a good look at them and if you look at the 61st minute of England-Scotland, you can see a little bit of what's happening (in the scrum)," the Ireland coach maintained.


"Joe Marler and Mako Vunipola on the loosehead, they'd know our lads really well, and on the other side Dan Cole and Paul Hill. . . he's a young guy who looks really exciting; we haven't seen too much of him because Dan Cole is such an institution in that scrum.

"Dylan Hartley, again, a strong scrummager, part of that Northampton team that was so dominant through that period when they had (Brian) Mujati and (Soane) Tonga'uiha dominating the scrum through Europe. We know Dylan is very tough there and young Jamie George is going very well as well.

"So across their front-row we know that they're going to be tough and they get plenty of horsepower from the size and strength of the guys behind them."

As England found out to their detriment last year, knowing what to expect is one thing but dealing with it is another. Jones will continue to dampen expectations but he has yet to experience the pressure cooker that is Twickenham and that is something that behind the scenes, Schmidt will be looking to ruthlessly exploit.

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