Saturday 16 December 2017

Schmidt: We can't afford to be 'stung' by another slow start

Joe Schmidt. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Joe Schmidt. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ireland cannot let another start pass them in Cardiff tomorrow night, according to head coach Joe Schmidt.

A sluggish opening cost them dear in Murrayfield and landed them in trouble against France, and the New Zealander fears that a failure to come out of the blocks against Wales could prove disastrous.

Read more: The Left Wing: 'Wales can be torn apart in the wide channels' - Luke Fitzgerald

In the corresponding fixture two years ago, Schmidt's side found themselves 12-0 down after 14 minutes at the Millennium Stadium in a game they ultimately lost.

With Rob Howley's unchanged side's backs to the wall and an 8.05 kick-off set to turn up the Cardiff heat, the Ireland supremo wants his team to hit the ground running.

"Emotionally our players will be up, they have to be - you can't miss a beat because the margins are so fine," he said.

"We have already been stung once by going in a little bit under-cooked and not being at the same heightened level that our opponents were. So I would hope that we would be as ready as Wales are.

"There is something about playing at home. . . I have no doubt Wales, particularly having lost their last two games and having lost in the Millennium Stadium to England in their last visit there, will be highly motivated, and we have to match that level of motivation."

Part of the reason Ireland fell so far behind in 2015 was the role played by Wayne Barnes, who whistled Schmidt's side off the park in the opening quarter.

Read more: Analysis: Dominance of the ruck holds key for Ireland to unlock Wales

In the aftermath of the game, the Ireland coach fumed about his decisions around a pivotal late scrum, while Sean O'Brien openly questioned his communication skills, saying "you can't talk to that man".

The English official is back in charge for tomorrow night's game, adding another layer of concern. Schmidt, though, says he is happy with the appointment.

"It's nice to have one of the better referees," he said. "Last time there were frustrations because there were zero tolerance around falling on the wrong side of the tackle in the first 20 minutes.

"That ebbed away and I understand why because it would have been 13-a-side by the end of the game. That tolerance was extended but unfortunately we copped the penalties against us.

"I haven't had any conversations with Wayne. We are always feeding things back. (In 2015) we were frustrated around the scrum and last time against France.

"We play off more scrums than anyone else in the championship and it is incredibly infuriating when teams that don't tend to play off scrums get rewarded for the way they approach the scrums."

Released

Ireland will wait until they have a better picture of the weather before making a call on whether the Millennium Stadium roof will be left open or closed tomorrow. If the forecast is good, it is likely that they will opt for it to remain open.

Read more: Neil Francis: Ireland beware - It's much easier to beat Wales with four tries than England by eight points

After missing out on selection, Jared Payne will be released to Ulster, who host Zebre on Saturday evening.

Payne's absence means Garry Ringrose will continue in the No 13 shirt, although judging by the effusive praise Schmidt heaped on the 22-year-old, he may have held on to his place regardless.

"Robbie (Henshaw) and Garry have a really good relationship and we're building on that. So sometimes selection might be swayed because of the cohesion of the current combination," he said.

"Garry played really well against the French, some of his defensive work was outstanding. We want him to continue to grow."

Irish Independent

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