Saturday 20 January 2018

We can't worry about record in Paris – Schmidt


Brian O'Driscoll, Ireland, slips a pass through Angelo Esposito, left, and Leonardo Sarto, Italy, to Andrew Trimble
Brian O'Driscoll, Ireland, slips a pass through Angelo Esposito, left, and Leonardo Sarto, Italy, to Andrew Trimble
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland in action during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and Italy
Brian O'Driscoll, Ireland, offloads the ball to Jonathan Sexton leading to his side's fourth try
Jonathan Sexton, Ireland, is tackled by Joshua Furno, left, and Gonzalo Garcia, Italy
Ireland's Paul O'Connell rises highest to claim possession in the lineout
Alberto De Marchi, Italy, is held up in the tackle by Iain Henderson and Chris Henry, Ireland
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

PERHAPS Brian O'Driscoll could turn his hand to scriptwriting if he and his wife Amy Huberman do make that move to Hollywood when the end finally comes.

His epic real-life story got a little surreal on Saturday afternoon, but he himself hit all the right notes on a day to remember at Lansdowne Road.

This may have felt like goodbye, but there is still a twist to come. Paris awaits, the scene of his greatest day in green and a championship on the line.

Win or bust; he wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

What we know is that Ireland are in the best form since their Grand Slam year in 2009, while France are a picture of chaos.

However, as Joe Schmidt was quick to remind everyone on Saturday, that magic day in 2000 is the only Ireland win in the French capital in 42 years and even then, amid the memories of that hat-trick, it is often forgotten that the margin of victory was just two points.

By pummelling the Italians and cutting loose in the final quarter, they have left themselves with a clear picture of what needs to be done.

Even if England manage to catch Ireland's points difference, Schmidt's men play last on Saturday and will know their task.

"We'd hoped that would be the situation. We're the last game next weekend so we'll know exactly what we need to do," Schmidt said.

"We'll know what we need to achieve points-wise, but what we really need to do is turn up and play well on the field.

"I think regardless of what does happen next week, we will be very much focused on trying to put the best performance we can together because I don't think we can get too distracted by the history or by the results or points differential.

"And I think that's what the players did a really good job of in the first half (against Italy).

"I didn't think that there was too much panic. There was a little bit of disappointment with a few lost balls.

"But the fact that we were confident enough and comfortable enough to build with a really solid platform before we started stacking anything on top of it I thought was a credit to the players.

"And they did show a fair bit of maturity in not trying to chase a result in the first 10 minutes."

Those minutes were used for beating the Italians into submission.

Jacques Brunel's side looked dangerous with ball in hand, but Ireland just didn't give them a sniff of possession.

The statistics tell an even more one-sided story than the scoreline. Ireland hogged the ball for 75pc of the game and spent 80pc of the match in Italian territory.

They carried for 658m and gave away just two penalties, both of which came from Johnny Sexton straying offside in harmless situations.

The fly-half, however, scored two of his side's tries and showed no ill-effects of his thumb injury, while O'Driscoll's hands created three but the coach will be especially pleased by the contribution of his bench.

Jack McGrath and Sean Cronin got their first international tries, while Fergus McFadden also crossed and Rhys Ruddock celebrated bridging an almost four-year wait for his second international cap with a powerful display.

But it was Eoin Reddan who made the biggest impact and put himself in real contention to start the final game.

Schmidt didn't plan on bringing the Leinster scrum-half on as early as he did, but Reddan seized his chance brilliantly.

Ireland were 7-0 up by the time the Limerick native came on for the injured Conor Murray thanks to a neat wraparound between O'Driscoll and Sexton, who handed off Gonzalo Garcia to score under the posts.

Leonardo Sarto took full advantage of a loose ball to round Rob Kearney's tackle, step inside his brother Dave and score under the posts, with Luciano Orquera converting, to briefly silence the stadium.

The hosts continued to probe without fully breaking through, although a clever Reddan snipe led to a penalty that Sexton sent over and the replacement scrum-half's tap and go in his own '22' led to the second try as O'Driscoll executed a switch with Rob Kearney, who raced into Italian territory.

Ireland kept the play alive for an age without really looking like scoring until O'Driscoll, helped by the presence of the medics tending to Gordon D'Arcy, fixed a host of Italians before popping an outrageous pass to Andrew Trimble, who scored.

Sexton converted and that took the wind out of the Italian sails at half-time. Another quick tap from Reddan – this time in the away '22' – led to the impressive Cian Healy powering over from close range.

The out-half missed the extras as Healy limped off and the bench began to empty.

O'Driscoll's final act was a sumptuous off-load that set up Sexton's second try with no little help from the Kearneys and, while the fans paid tribute to a hero who will soon become part of the past, the performance of the men who will form a large part of the future was hugely encouraging.

Cronin powered over after a superb Ruddock steal, McFadden went right through the middle and McGrath finished the job with the last play following another Reddan tap.

Then came the great man's lap of honour and there was enough of a feel-good factor in the air to carry the team to Paris.


They re-assembled last night at Carton House and Schmidt's job now is to get them down off that high and ready for their cup final in their least favourite venue.

"We just have to make sure we're adaptable enough that we can cope, that we can focus on the task at hand and in eight days, hopefully, we'll be in a really good position and, I think, we have really overachieved," the coach surmised.

"If we can win a Six Nations having gone away to England and France, that would be a bit special.

"I've found the players incredibly responsive, they're working very hard and it would give a confidence externally for sure, but I think we have a quiet confidence internally.

"We don't know how we're going to go next week. That's the beauty of sport, it is an unknown.

"But I tell you what I do know; we'll work really hard this week and the harder we work, the better able we are to be up to the mark in Paris next weekend."

If they are, they'll be hard to beat and, as the final act in the long goodbye, it would be the perfect way to bid farewell.

IRELAND – R Kearney; A Trimble, B O'Driscoll (F McFadden 63), G D'Arcy, D Kearney; J Sexton (P Jackson 64), C Murray (E Reddan 17); C Healy (J McGrath 54), R Best (S Cronin 54), M Ross (M Moore 57); D Toner, P O'Connell (capt); I Henderson (R Ruddock 54), C Henry (J Murphy 74), J Heaslip.

ITALY – L McLean; A Esposito, M Campagnaro, G Garcia (A Masi 64), L Sarto; L Orquera (T Allan 64), T Tito (E Gori 71); A De Marchi, L Ghiraldini (D Giazzon 71), M Castrogiovanni (L Cittadini 8); Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami (capt, A Pavanello 64); J Furno, P Derbyshire (M Vosawai 35-40, 57), R Barbieri.

REF – N Owens (Wales)

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