Schmidt: 'We didn't need that try, we need Robbie'
Joe Schmidt has revealed how he willed Robbie Henshaw not to score Ireland's fifth try against Italy as he feared the centre would pick up an injury.
The coach's feeling of apprehension turned out to be well placed as the centre didn't get up after diving to touch down under pressure from Italy's Tomasso Benvenuti, severely injuring his shoulder in the process.
Schmidt yesterday revealed the full cost of the blow, confirming that the Athlone native would miss between three and four months of the season after undergoing an operation on Monday.
It leaves Leinster and Ireland light on midfielders ahead of the most critical part of the season and was a cruel way to curtail the 24-year-old's campaign.
"A lot of wingers are more likely to do that shoulder injury that Robbie did just because they dive in at corners and someone lands on top of them," he lamented. "As he was going in to score that I had a very bad feeling, and I said in the box, as he was going in to score it, 'Don't score Robbie'. We didn't need the try, we need him, and it's not very often a coach is saying that to a player quietly in a coaching box but it is what it is.
"We will get really excited about the players we do have because we know how hard they are going to work on Saturday week."
Wales are next up for Schmidt's side who are looking to keep their long unbeaten home Six Nations run going.
Yesterday, they trained in bitterly cold conditions at Buccaneers RFC as part of their three-day mini-camp in Athlone.
As they lined up against Noel McNamara's U-20s, Bundee Aki and Chris Farrell were the centre pairing with Joey Carbery providing cover having been held back from returning to Leinster.
Garry Ringrose is likely to come into the squad next week after his ankle injury, but it is expected that he will make his return to injury for Leinster against Southern Kings rather than being pitched into the Six Nations cauldron. Which means Aki and Farrell are poised to start together for the second time having partnered up against Argentina in November.
They are the 24th combination Schmidt has used in his 52 Tests in charge, with Farrell fourth on the depth chart behind Jared Payne, Ringrose and Henshaw.
However, the Fermanagh native has impressed Schmidt since returning from his spell with Grenoble in France.
"I think he showed there's a bit more to Chris Farrell than a bludgeon - nice soft skills and a tight pass, he's got a good length in his pass," he said.
"He's actually got pretty good kicking skills and I thought his defensive acumen on the day against an Argentinian team with the likes of (Joaquin) Tuculet coming into the back line . . . I thought he closed the space down really well.
"They'd be probably some of the things that we'd volunteer as the strengths we see with Chris."
Aki and Farrell will be tasked with a challenge that has vexed Schmidt's team in recent seasons, unlocking the Wales defence.
The coach has not tasted Six Nations success against his fellow New Zealander Warren Gatland since 2014, drawing the last time they met in Dublin two years ago.
Last season's clash was an epic affair and, while the Ireland supremo can point to pivotal refereeing decisions that went against his team and the loss of Conor Murray - who he left out on the pitch despite being clearly injured - he knows that Ireland must remove chance from the equation this time out.
"I know last year it was 15-9 right until that last bit where we were trying to play catch-up and over-played and they got a charge-down try," he recalled.
"Apart from that it was a very tight fixture. so whether it is played over there or over here, they have been very tight fixtures and maybe we are due some margin of luck to fall our way to get a result against them.
"We don't want it to be luck, we want it to be that we make sure that we work hard enough to earn whatever we get."
Schmidt believes Wales have moved their game on in the 18 months since the last World Cup and bring a different armoury to the table, even if it is built on some familiar fundamentals.
"We would expect an incredibly resilient defence, certainly 13 guys on their feet, in your face, coming hard at you," he said.
"We've got to prepare for that and be really sound in what we do.
"At the same time, they've got their forwards playing a lot more. They've got guys making passes. Samson Lee, some of his handling has been outstanding, Rob Evans the same. Ken Owens has always been a ball player and very dynamic ball-carrier for them.
"When you've got someone like Aaron Shingler, as quick as he is, in the back-row, his athleticism has brought a slight change into what they afford to do."