Sunday 25 February 2018

Schmidt demands same again

Ireland cannot afford to let a "small vote of confidence" pass after their "benchmark" performance against New Zealand, according to Joe Schmidt.

The Ireland head coach has challenged his players to sustain the level produced in Sunday's last-gasp 24-22 defeat to the All Blacks when the RBS 6 Nations comes around.

Schmidt admitted Ireland have a big fight on their hands for seamless progression from now until the Six Nations opener against Scotland in February.

First-half tries from Conor Murray, Rory Best and Rob Kearney were not enough for Ireland as the All Blacks claimed an overtime victory through Ryan Crotty's converted score.

Dejection in defeat aside, Schmidt warned Ireland any autumn progress can easily be undone between now and the Six Nations.

He said: "If we can benchmark that and get somewhere back close to it, then we're going to be competitive and that's where we want to be.

"These four weeks were about the Six Nations too, we'll judge ourselves on the Six Nations and we're already putting pressure on ourselves to be as good as we can be in that tournament.

"I hope it's not the first page, because if we want the page-turner to be something people get excited about then we have to be able to finish games like that.

"The first Monday we got together we looked at the All Blacks.

"We had looked at them as the game we had to be up for and ready for.

"Part of our preparation was aimed at them right from the beginning.

"It's hard to pick up where you've left off when we meet again.

"For me it's still unknown territory, plotting these four weeks was unknown territory too.

"But I feel I know a little bit more about it now, the players know a bit more about where we're trying to go.

"We showed more structure, and a lot of character.

"And to push the best team in the world for the last few years as close as we did, while devastating, it's a small vote of confidence for us.

"But at the same time France did a great job in last year's autumn series and then didn't put that into the Six Nations.

"The challenge is to get everyone back together again and redeliver what was probably a benchmark performance."

While hooker Best was believed to have suffered a broken right arm, Schmidt said Brian O'Driscoll's injury was only "a little bit of a stinger".

Ireland's leap from the 32-15, four-try Australia defeat to almost toppling the world champions was stark.

Schmidt said the more comfortable his players become with his structure, the more chance they have of repeating Sunday's gritty showing.

He said: "Part of that intensity comes from desire, confidence and clarity.

"I think it's easier to be intense when you know where you're going and what your job is.

"Because then you can get stuck into your role.

"It's hard to be intense when you're not sure do I go here, or there, and as soon as you over-think you get yourself into trouble.

"I would agree with what was said in there, the New Zealanders didn't have to think about that last attack play.

"They opened up and attacked directly with some firepower that is a little bit bigger and stronger than what we have.

"But if we get massive clarity everyone will know their roles and that will definitely help."

Press Association

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