Tuesday 12 December 2017

'We can't afford to lose our first game' - Schmidt

Ireland's Rob Kearney and Jonathan Sexton during squad training
Ireland's Rob Kearney and Jonathan Sexton during squad training

IRELAND are holding nothing in reserve for next week's eagerly anticipated clash with Wales as Joe Schmidt looks to get his Six Nations career off to a winning start against Scotland tomorrow.

The New Zealander has named what he feels is his strongest team for the Lansdowne Road clash, despite only having six days to turn his team around for the clash with Warren Gatland's side.

Ireland are looking for a major improvement on last year's campaign that saw them lose to the Scots en route to finishing second from bottom.

And with momentum being critical to a good Six Nations campaign, the coach believes that beating the Scots can set them up.

"We can't afford to lose our first game, to be honest," he said. "It's pivotal for us to get a good start. You only get one shot at your first game and you've got to give it your best shot I think.

"I'm still learning in this job. It's a competition of five games but it's five finals and that probably makes it slightly different to the autumn.

"We did feel that we maybe needed to have a look at a few guys whereas I think the Six Nations is the major tournament that you play."

Captain Paul O'Connell believes the current crop of players could be better than the team who claimed the Grand Slam in 2009, but he says they have to start winning tight games like they did that year to prove it.

"I think we've an excellent squad that (is) every bit as good and possibly better, but until we go on and do something you can't say that," the Munster second-row said.

"That team had been together for a long time under Eddie (O'Sullivan), had learned a lot under Eddie and Deccy (Kidney) came in and we rolled up our sleeves, dug in and won a Grand Slam.

"A lot of the games from that tournament were close games, Brian scored tries that probably wouldn't go down on his DVD highlights reel, but we dug in and got the job done.

"A lot of one-score games, you can look at pieces of discipline where if people might be a little more tuned in you win the game.

"The emotion and passion of playing Six Nations – it is about finding that balance between being technically excellent and remembering how physical rugby is."

Brian O'Driscoll will become Ireland's most capped player tomorrow as he passes Ronan O'Gara's total of 128, while Rob Kearney will win his 50th cap alongside brother Dave.

They will be the first brothers to play together in a Six Nations match for Ireland since Rory and Simon Best faced Italy in 2007. Luke Marshall starts in place of Gordon D'Arcy, while Eoin Reddan and Luke Fitzgerald could come back into contention ahead of the Wales game.

Meanwhile, Schmidt says the province a player plays for has no bearing on his selection after coming in for criticism for the number of Leinster players in his squad.

"There are a number of factors that you take into account, the factor that counts least is the province they come from. In fact, it's irrelevant," he said.

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Irish Independent

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