Joe Schmidt opts for an unchanged Irish starting XV
Jordi Murphy and Iain Henderson win places in the matchday squad
Joe Schmidt and the Irish squad beat a hasty retreat from their Carton House base in Kildare yesterday after fulfilling their media obligations in order to make their mid-afternoon flight to Heathrow. This being the first away game of Schmidt’s six-match reign, he and they were flying into relatively unchartered territory.
Helpfully and encouragingly perhaps, Schmidt has been to Twickenham as a supporter and twice as a coach, when a New Zealand schoolboys team containing Jimmy Gopperth beat their English counterparts, and when Leinster beat Ulster 42-14 in the 2012 Heineken Cup final. Leinster even had the away dressing-room.
That said, this is assuredly the toughest and most daunting fixture of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign to date, albeit one that offers Ireland their first silverware since the 2009 Grand Slam in the shape of an eleventh Triple Crown.
Emphasising the squad’s “player driven environment” Schmidt admitted: “We play for silverware. We have some key performance indicators that give us feedback on how accurate we’ve been, but in the end we’re results-driven because we have to be, the public are results driven and we would love to get a bit of silverware . . . ”
Schmidt accepted that what worked at home to Scotland and Wales won’t necessarily work against England, who have the best array of ball-carrying forwards in the tournament as well as the sniping Danny Care, and he was swift to pinpoint one area of required improvement, namely “defensively our first up tackle”.
“I think we have been overrated as to how effective our tackle had been so we are going to have to be very, very effective in our first up tackle with the likes of Tom Wood, Billy Vunipola, Dylan Hartley carrying,” he added, supplementing this with the threat posed by a young backline.
In possession, Ireland will have to be “well-resourced at ruck time”, adding: “They pick and choose their rucks really well. They don’t overload the rucks and they have got a lot of guys on their feet to defend but when they sniff a chance they are very destructive at the ruck and they pour numbers through.”
He cited the examples of Courtney Lawes, Hartley and Joe Launchbury “and then guys like Tom Wood and Robshaw charging through that ruck makes it very difficult to maintain a real tempo and continuity if that ruck ball isn’t stable and quickly delivered.”
Schmidt duly confirmed the first unchanged team of his tenure yesterday, although Andrew Trimble revealed a scare in the camp regarding some bloke called O’Driscoll on the final Twickenham leg of the great one’s farewell tour.