Sunday 13 October 2019

Schmidt believes Ireland have been marked men after 2018 success

Ireland boss has pointed to the All Blacks as a side able to cope with the pressure of their status in world rugby.

Joe Schmidt has admitted Ireland have struggled to live up to their stellar 2018. (Brian Lawless/PA)
Joe Schmidt has admitted Ireland have struggled to live up to their stellar 2018. (Brian Lawless/PA)

By Nick Purewal, Press Association Sport

Joe Schmidt has conceded Ireland have struggled to cope with the pressure of their stellar 2018.

Ireland swept the board with a Six Nations Grand Slam last term and stunning victory over back-to-back world champions New Zealand in November.

All Blacks boss Steve Hansen installed Ireland as the world’s best team after Schmidt’s men saw off New Zealand 16-9 in Dublin – then insisted the men in green could struggle under the weight of that tag.

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Joe Schmidt, left, and Steve Hansen, right, now see eye to eye on Ireland’s progress (Niall Carson/PA)

Hansen has this week claimed Ireland have indeed failed to cope with that burden, and now Schmidt has accepted the sentiment, with his men losing to England and labouring to wins in Scotland and Italy in this year’s Six Nations so far.

“Probably, the All Blacks are the only team who consistently stay at the top,” said Schmidt, ahead of Ireland hosting France in Dublin on Sunday.

“You consider England, Six Nations Grand Slam, they get the Six Nations the following year, and the year after that they are fifth.

“How does that happen with most of the same personnel?

“It is one of those things that it is a little bit difficult. I know even talking to Franck Azema in Clermont, champions one year and 10th the next. How does that happen?

“It’s not apathy, it’s not overconfidence, I’m not sure how you might explain it. But there’s a real forward-thinking about the group.

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PA Graphic

“So what’s happened last year is certainly last year.

“Because last year’s results don’t help you win anything this year.

“In fact, if anything, I think Steve is suggesting it hinders you winning things this year. It certainly puts a target on you.

“There’s no way that people come here and don’t want to beat a team that’s ranked where we are or a team that achieved what we did last year.

“But for us, it’s all about what we can achieve. And not even this year, it’s what we can achieve in just over 48 hours’ time.”

British and Irish Lions flanker Sean O’Brien has been omitted from Ireland’s squad for Sunday’s battle with Les Bleus.

The 32-year-old Leinster star has paid a hefty price for a below-par showing in Ireland’s patchy 26-16 victory over Italy in Rome, with Josh Van Der Flier starting in his stead at openside.

Fit-again Garry Ringrose starts at outside centre, with Robbie Henshaw still battling a dead leg, while Iain Henderson returns after finger trouble at lock and CJ Stander at number eight.

Munster star Stander suffered a nasty broken cheekbone in Ireland’s opening-weekend 32-20 loss to England in Dublin but has recovered quickly to step back into Schmidt’s team.

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Sean O’Brien, pictured, has missed out on Ireland selection (David Davies/PA)

Schmidt confirmed O’Brien’s omission was on form, with the Ireland boss excited by Van Der Flier starting in the back-row.

“With Sean, Jack Conan was going to be given the opportunity against Scotland and he didn’t get that, so we wanted to give him the chance,” said Schmidt.

“Josh Van Der Flier hasn’t let us down at all. So it’s a perfect opportunity to put him back in there, he’s very much keen and ready to go.

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Garry Ringrose, left, is back in the Ireland line-up (Brian Lawless/PA)

“As tempted as we were with (lock) Tadhg Beirne, he’s just been a little bit sore this week coming back from injury. He was in the mix but he’s going to get the weekend off, to come back in refreshed and train next week.

“Ultan Dillane has played very well for us, so we wanted to reward his performance in Italy.”

IRELAND TEAM TO FACE FRANCE IN DUBLIN ON SUNDAY: R Kearney (Leinster), K Earls (Munster), G Ringrose (Leinster), B Aki (Connacht), J Stockdale (Ulster), J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray (Munster), C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster, capt), T Furlong (Leinster), I Henderson (Ulster), James Ryan (Leinster), P O’Mahony (Munster), J Van Der Flier (Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster). Replacements: N Scannell, D Kilcoyne, John Ryan (all Munster), U Dillane (Connacht), J Conan (Leinster), J Cooney, J Carty (both Connacht), J Larmour (Leinster).

PA Media

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