Joe Schmidt looks to home comforts
Captain Paul O’Connell dismisses notion of a Lions hangover ahead of Six Nations
A flawless Dublin record and one win away from home could catapult Ireland into Six Nations title contention, according to head coach Joe Schmidt.
The Ireland boss has bemoaned a six-day turnaround between hosting Scotland and facing Wales in Dublin in the tournament’s opening two rounds and he sees that transition as key to Ireland’s chances of remaining unbeaten at the Aviva Stadium.
Throw in victory in one of France or England, and Schmidt believes Ireland have a chance to trouble the top end of the tournament table.
“If we could defend the Aviva that would be great,” he said. “If we manage an away victory against either England or France, as well, then that would put us in the mix for a shot at being in the top two.
“That would be a fantastic achievement given where we’ve come from, but that’s not to say that’s our clear expectation. We know we’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of us.
“The six-day turnaround from Scotland to Wales is a really big ask. There’s nothing we can do about that and you just have to get on with it, just like you can’t control the calls of a referee.
“But it’s unfortunate that we’re not going to get a great run-in to a game against a great team like Wales, especially after facing a combative outfit like Scotland. We’ll only really have one real training session that week, so we’ll have to make it count.”
Schmidt admitted Ireland’s breathtaking 24-22 last-play defeat to world champions New Zealand in November has been a “recurring nightmare” for him personally.
The former New Zealand schoolteacher is confident his players have moved quickly past that autumn frustration, however.
“We managed to move past it pretty quickly when we met up again ahead of Christmas,” said Schmidt. “It’s been a bit of a recurring nightmare for me, however, because it’s the first time I’ve had this experience as a national coach.
“In the past I have always had the next week to get a game out of my system, and my team too. So adapting to that change has been a different process for me.
“The players are in good shape though, and now we’re just excited about the challenges ahead in the competition.”
Ireland captain Paul O’Connell has dimissed suggestions fatigue from the Lions tour could hamper his side. France have claimed the Six Nations title every season directly following a Lions tour in the professional era but Munster’s talismanic lock does not expect a hangover this season.
“After my first Lions tour I actually broke my hand in my first game back and got another 10 weeks off, so I got a really long pre-season,” said O’Connell of his experiences after the 2005 Lions tour. “Certainly that happened back in 1997 and maybe in 2001 but I think we’re very well-managed now.
“I got a good break after the Lions tour, we’ve had some very tough games in the last few months, but managed to get a down week over Christmas as well. So I think it’s something you can believe if you want to, you can look for it if you want, but the way we’ve been managed, most of our Lions players are feeling fairly good.
“Most of the Irish players from the Lions are feeling strong and ready for the tournament.”