'We have never lost a Championship game at home when I have been in charge' - Joe Schmidt sounds battle cry
Only day two of the Six Nations title race but thoughts still inevitably keep straining towards day five on March 17.
With a fortnight break to come before the visit of Warren Gatland's Welsh side, Ireland are sitting pretty in their quest to win a third Championship under Joe Schmidt after two wildly contrasting successes. "If you had told me before the first match started that we would have nine points and a 39 points differential, I would have bitten your hand off," said Schmidt. "We always go to Paris with trepidation because it is always hard to win there, even though we had won twice there and had a one-point loss.
"So we had that confidence going into that game and now getting a bonus point here increases that. Wales will be a whole different scenario. They play a lot of territory, force you to bring the ball back into a lot of bodies, then squeeze you and score errors. We have nine points from two games, we are where we are and we would love to get 13 points from three games.
"You feel you have a chance when you win the first two games, especially when you win the first one away knowing there are two to come at home. We have never lost a Championship game at home when I have been in charge. We have drawn with them here though after a World Cup when we were almost starting again but every Championship game is different."
When asked to assess this squad compared to the previous title-winners he helmed to back-to-back championships in 2014 and 2015, Schmidt conceded that experience is the main differential.
"This squad is a lot less experienced than the other squads we had. They had Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell, Gordon D'Arcy and Mike Ross. We have lost a lot of caps in the pack but we have had guys like Josh van der Flier, Dan Leavy and Jack Conan coming in to make an impression.
"Robbie Henshaw has been top-class for us. The common denominators have been Rob Kearney, Rory Best, Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray. They are our spine."
Schmidt was pleased with how his side decided the contest in the opening half; less so with the disparate nature of a sloppy second.
"I was really happy with the way we started. We played with good width and most of it was accurate but we turned the ball over more than we planned to.
"I felt we scored some really good tries in those first 40 minutes and to keep them to nil was a good effort because you saw the way they played in the second half, they can play well when they have the ball. We got passive defensively in the last quarter when we had to move Keith Earls to centre.
"Robbie Henshaw is good in defence and then you have a debutant on the wing who may be a bit nervous when fellas are running at them but he certainly made a few of them a bit nervous. It was important to get a reference point for some of the younger guys."
The hapless Italians maintained their generosity beyond the final whistle of what was a lamentable excuse for a sporting contest. "Ireland play much better rugby than England," said captain Sergio Parisse, gilding Ireland's lily. "It is much more difficult to defend against. England play well too but for me personally, it was much more difficult against Ireland. I like the way they play, they play really good rugby."
His Irish counterpart refused to swallow the bait. "It's always nice when you get a compliment from the other captain," said Rory Best. "There are a lot of things we can do better, especially building on the second half. England is a long way away and we will just focus on our next game against Wales."
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