Ireland show they can compete with the best but Schmidt feels there’s a lot to do
Head coach warns against complacency as he prepares to face Italy
Rob Kearney fails to halt England fullback Mike Brown from making a break to set up the winning try during at Twickenham. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Ifs, buts and maybes. If nothing else, Ireland again demonstrated they can compete with the world’s top echelon in high tempo games last Saturday, as they did in stretching the All Blacks to the pins of their collars last November. Yet although top of the Six Nations, but for those two that got away, Ireland could be sitting even prettier now than they are.
“There’s two results that if things were going as planned we’d love to have them,” admitted Joe Schmidt yesterday, “and there’s two results that I do feel, against the best team in the world and one of the toughest teams to beat at home in the world, that if you had said 12 months ago this is where you are I would have leapt at it. I do think as a group we are still learning and the players are getting more comfortable.
“I think what we have done is prove that we can play a few different ways. We can slow the game down and play with a lot of structure.
“We can open the game up and play with a bit of tempo. We can fit different people into different situations. But I do think there is still a lot to do,” he conceded in reflecting on the errors of last Saturday.
Only one try conceded – due to a system malfunction emanating from Mike Ross being blocked from pushing out as the first pillar, Rory Best and Gordon D’Arcy pushing up quickly whereas Conor Murray didn’t, for Mike Brown to take the inside line between Best and D’Arcy, reflects well on the defence.
“When we first got together as a group, we sort of stripped things down a bit and we wanted to approach it in a different way,” said defensive coach Les Kiss. “I think we have been quite aggressive with different tactics in defence, and the guys have adapted well.”
While disappointed with “four or five first-up missed tackles” Kiss stressed they’d kept a team who’d been averaging 2.3 tries per game at home to just one, as well as a 6-1 try count and plus 43 points’ differential after three games, before warning: “The past doesn’t guarantee the next game. The boys are hard on themselves and they know how hard we will be and we will work to make sure they keep improving the things we need to because it is a campaign.”
Similarly, John Plumtree admitted the forwards were progressing “probably a bit faster than I thought they would. All four provinces are pretty passionate about their forward play, so it is really just about harnessing the group when they come in and giving them a bit of direction and setting up what I see as the basic principles of forward play are all about.
“I am really happy in that regard, I’m a bit like Joe really: “You’re only as good as your last game” and our last game wasn’t so good. So, we will look forward to getting things right against Italy and the pack are going to have to go out there and play better than they did last time out.”
Schmidt sees England as the main threat to Ireland’s title hopes, given their home advantage and revenge factor against Wales, plus favourable points scoring conditions in Rome to add to their points’ differential.
“We go away to France, that’s going to be very, very difficult to win. One of the problems for us is making sure that Italy is our full focus, and it will be over the next few days and next week.
“Across the board I don’t think we’re going to get anything easy against Italy and I think there’s a real danger of expectation that we’re going to try to put a 10, or 20 or 30 point margin – we want to get a margin that gives us the two points, and that will be tough enough.
“Ireland and France lost to them last year and there’s a real danger in us thinking too far forward.
“We’ve got to put ourselves in a position to be able to win the championship and the only way we can do that is to beat Italy first and foremost.”