‘It’s a real relief to me the game is over and we managed to get the win’
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt admits the win over Scotland was flawed and uneven
Ireland’s Andrew Trimble goes past the tackle of Scotland’s Stuart Hogg to score his side’s first try during yesterday’s Six Nations match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Photograph: Inpho
To belittle the performance because of a lack of perfection is everyone’s prerogative. But in Joe Schmidt’s first outing, the winning of the match was infinitely more central to his thinking than anything resembling rugby art.
For even Schmidt had his famous equanimity rattled yesterday morning in the Shelbourne Hotel, when first word came though that his captain and secondrow Paul O’Connell was not playing. An overnight chest infection that took hold of the talismanic lock and never gave up left the disciple of detail, Schmidt, with as big a hole in the first day of his Six Nations life than he ever could have imagined.
Even his Celtic complexion seemed to have dulled a shade in the post-match reception as he admitted the win over Scotland was flawed and uneven.
Yesterday was a day in the trenches, one to survive rather than savour. Schmidt came out of the lockerroom both emptied and pleased. The gathering clouds over his head from O’Connell’s illness had lifted but they had taken a toll in that there was little sense of celebration or triumph.
But nor was any ground lost. Schmidt oozed the satisfaction of completion and momentum shifted forward for him. An inconsistent side were put to the sword and an expected outcome for the high-aiming Kiwi delivered. Move on.
“Relieved to be honest,” said Schmidt with an audible sigh. “The day probably didn’t start too well. A phone call at 8am this morning to say that Paul O’Connell has a chest infection and had been awake most of the night so he was ruled out . . . It’s a real relief to me the game is over and done with and we managed to get the win on board.
“He was fine last night,” added the Irish coach. “I was talking to him last night and he was pretty chipper about the whole event coming up next day so the call at eight this morning from the doc to say he’d been back into see him at 4.30 in the morning and his chest infection was bad and that he hadn’t slept . . . so there’s no way you can play a Test match if you haven’t had that sleep.”
Stand in captain Heaslip was equally taken by the swift way O’Connell was stricken. The lineout team had been to Aviva on Saturday evening under lights to plot their set-pieces.
“Yeah. It was a bit of a shock,” said the man-of-the-match. “Again we walked the lineouts at about seven o’clock last night. Paul was absolutely fine. It was a big shock to us but the standard we have in the squad. Just like what Joe said, Dan (Tuohy) came in and Hendi (Ian Henderson) went on to the bench and everyone knew their role from during the week.”
From the longest day to the shortest week, Schmidt, Heaslip and probably O’Connell move into a six-day turnaround before Wales travel to Dublin.
“I’d say he’ll be able to train fully on Thursday. I would be really confident about it,” said Schmidt of his captain. But six days is another piece of grit in the coach’s ointment about which he lovingly grapples.
There are bodies to heal and chest infections to pass. There are tactics to be redrawn for a team seeking a first three-in-arow of championship wins. Wales come demanding respect and for Brian O’Driscoll, or maybe everyone but O’Driscoll, the ghosts of the last Lions’ Test match against Australia and Ireland’s favourite arch villain Warren Gatland needs some closure. Schmidt expects the Dragon to breath hotter than it did against Italy.
“Yeah, I do,” he says. “I do. Last year they were slow starters and they came through and beat everyone else having lost at home first round. I have no doubt they’ll pick themselves up. They’re too good not to. Across the board, they’re stacked with talent, size and speed. At the same time we have got to believe that we are formidable enough at the Aviva and we’ll be very keen to demonstrate that.
“To be honest, Gats has known me for a long time and I’m pretty sure he’ll know what to expect. He’s coached against Ireland and he coached Ireland so I think he’ll know what to expect.”
The nature of these match-days is that if there is no recrimination required or bones to pick over, the show moves on. Heaslip, determined to forfeit quality sleep and watch last night’s Super Bowl, knows there will be few surprises on Saturday because he has eaten beside, billeted with and played shoulder to shoulder with the bulk of the Welsh team in Australia last summer.
Gleefully referring to the rollicking from Schmidt after the match – possibly the only crystal clear comment that illuminated the post-match dressing room mood – he sees another challenge. “We’re going up against a massive team, champions the last two years,” said Heaslip. “We want to test ourselves coming up against teams and players of that calibre. We’ll give them the respect they deserve, put the video work in, train hard on the field and look at their strengths and weaknesses. But, we’ll worry about ourselves.”
There will be no oval ball art on Saturday either. Big men hitting each other, more slim pickings; a fastidious Schmidt trying to scratch yards out of inches.