Saturday 17 February 2018

'You don't just suddenly become an inspirational leader overnight'

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Confidence was a key theme in the aftermath of Ireland's nine-try win over Italy and, while Joe Schmidt wasn't quite on board with the idea that his players have been lacking belief in the aftermath of their World Cup disappointment, he accepted that a free-scoring victory can only help with morale.

In particular, it will help skipper Rory Best who finally got to enjoy a victory as captain at the fourth attempt after enduring a difficult first season.

The Ulster hooker is carrying out an unenviable job in replacing Paul O'Connell but has carried himself well in representing his team in public as he continuously backed the coaching ticket and his team-mates in their efforts to turn things around.

Leadership has been an issue during this Six Nations, but the head coach is beginning to like what he sees from his senior players and the skipper in particular.

"Confidence is a little bit of a contagious thing," Schmidt said. "If there's a dip, it tends to spread through the team pretty quickly. If there's someone who keeps the confidence of other players it helps.

"Without going back too far, one of the things is that when Paul O'Connell makes a decision, people go 'wow, that's got to be the right decision, Paul O'Connell made that', you know.

"Certainly Rory is quieter, and he's just such an efficient player that he leads by example, and over the evidence that I've seen over the last four games he's growing into the role, because I don't think you just suddenly become an international captain overnight.


"You grow into the role and he's got some really good lieutenants in Jamie (Heaslip), who always steps up as he did today when Rory left the field, and Johnny (Sexton), who instils confidence in others because they rate his ability to make decisions, and then they also rate his ability to carry out part of the decision because his passing game and his kicking game are as strong as they are."

While he took yet more punishment against Italy, Sexton again underlined his importance to this Ireland team with a masterful display.

"He was super," Schmidt said. "He initiated a lot of positive decisions. He's a pretty positive man by nature, and he loves to play the game and he wants to challenge teams. His kick variety was super.

"He mixed it up; if he saw a little space in behind or he saw a little space into the corner, and we were able to put them under pressure.

"A couple of our tries came from defensive pressure. Which is nice as well."

For Best himself, there was some relief as he considered his the first victory of his era as captain.

"It's been a tough championship and it was nice to get the win and not be standing here trying to justify what we've been doing," he said.

"There have been throughout the championship aspects of the performance that we're pleased with and other aspects we know need to be a lot better going forward.

"Just to get the win, it's nice to be in a changing-room where boys are enjoying themselves. It's something that we talked about yesterday, that this was a special championship and a special championship to play in.

"It's something that a lot of the boys hadn't experienced, it's an unbelievable championship to go out and get a result in. To do that and score 50 points, you've got to be pleased."

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