Wednesday 22 November 2017

Schmidt's attention to detail paying dividends as players remain focused on prize

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt
David Kelly

David Kelly

Devils lurk amidst dutiful details. No matter.

The more difficult it seems to avoid the bigger picture – and it was impossible for all to ignore the stunning homage to their star player that descended from the skies – the easier it appears for each of Joe Schmidt's men to narrow their focus.

This week, the momentous opportunity that awaits in Paris and the ongoing O'Driscoll farewell will threaten once more to agitate their attention; to a man, they will respond with renewed slavish commitment to the specific.

"Your role is pretty clear," explainsed Eoin Reddan of a sense of purpose that sparks such optimism amongst his supporters as Ireland chase a second championship title in five seasons.

"It's not a big role, just minute by minute what you're supposed to be doing. Joe pays a lot of attention to parts of the game that are very important, both in the air and in the rucks. So you need to be accurate in those areas."

Only Schmidt could relate to his side being neither frill nor thrill- seekers after a seven-try scorefest; only he could highlight a clean-out of which most of the Mexican waving crowd cared little.

That he did care is the most important point of all.

"There was a great clean-out from Dave Kearney where he went horizontal to smash a guy off the ball – that sort of commitment is the glue that holds us together," he noted, eagle-eyed as ever.

"There is a dual approach," said Reddan. "There's the attacking threat, the ideas and moves that you come up with. And then there's the attention to detail in delivering what you're supposed to deliver on."

Without the detailed sketching, there can be no sweeping brush strokes.

And it is a collective endeavour where democratic principles of pooled commitment apply, which another replacement, try-scorer Jack McGrath, almost breathlessly invokes.

"Replacements need to come on and be switched on, to know our roles, to know all the plays and be talking throughout the match, asking our tens and asking our nines what was that play if you weren't sure," he reasoned.

"Or if you see something like ruck work or carries-wise that you can bring on and you can change. Or you can say to one of the lads that when they're on the pitch they can actually do it.

"It can be mentally draining. Even if you don't play that much, you'd still be mentally sort of zapped after the game."

There is little room for diversion from the prize, even amidst all the powerfully emotive feelings that ran amok on Saturday, and those that may inevitably threaten to run riot again this week.

Like a huddle of croppers, the team never averted their gaze from the work until they had toiled their last.

"It was just a matter of going as hard as you can until the final whistle went and not lifting your head," explained Reddan of the process, at times frustrating, of Saturday's points race.

"And if that meant we won by three points, then we won by three points. So it was going hard all out. And if you scored, you ran back as quickly as possible.

"It was important to give us a small chance of going there to beat France. Hopefully, it will put us in a position that it will be good enough... if we manage to win in France."


That "if" is central to this week's canvas; namely Ireland's historical meekness in Paris, only once arrested in 42 years and seemingly impervious to the anarchic wiles of the home nation.

"One thing I'll say about the way we're playing is that you'll always be confident of what you're going to deliver," asserted Reddan.

"But their unpredictability is a big thing. You just don't know how well they're going to play. If they play at their very, very best, then it's going to be a tough game.

"You'd have confidence in the squad and in your team-mate doing what he's supposed to do. And we have that now. I know if I get to a ruck and give a good pass, the next guy is going to do something good with that. And the next fella.

"There's no big picture you need to worry about because everyone is delivering on their own role. That's what we'll do next week. So I wouldn't be too worried about us delivering."

It is that certainty that will define their approach and guard against all distraction.

Once these players and coaches have a clear and definitive picture of every moment, then the bigger picture will, of itself, emerge for all to see. The unveiling is breathlessly awaited.

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