Joe Schmidt defends substitution tactics in Johannesburg loss
‘It’s never as simple as just putting players on and saying , oh, he’ll freshen things up’
Joe Schmidt has defended how Ireland used their replacements in their second Test defeat to South Africa. Photograph: Inpho
Admitting that the Irish squad were “a tired group” following their draining efforts of the last two Saturdays, and the second Test in Johannesburg especially, Joe Schmidt has addressed Ireland’s usage of the bench at Ellis Park, when the Springboks recovered from a 26-10 deficit in the last quarter to tie the series.
“It’s one of the difficulties with altitude. You can’t really contribute as much until you get a second wind, and if you’re only going on with ten minutes to go it takes about that long to get your second wind.”
“Because of the nature of the game, it was so tight, as far as holding that margin was concerned we just felt that the players who were in the rhythm of the game were in the best situation to keep that going. It’s always difficult during the game as opposed to hindsight. It’s one of those things now that we’ll hopefully have a few fresh bodies this week that will help boost the level of energy.”
There is some scope to refresh the match-day squad for Saturday’s concluding series decider in Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth. This will most likely see the return of Mike Ross, Jordi Murphy, CJ Stander, Luke Marshall and Keith Earls, as well as Ultan Dillane to the match day squad - all of whom were rested last weekend. Eoin Reddan and Matt Healy are the nly two players yet to feature, while Kieran Marmion, Ian Madigan and Tiernan O’Halloran had no more than three minutes apiece off the bench last Saturday.
Speaking to Irish Rugby TV, Schmidt was asked if there was a tinge of regret that he didn’t make more use of the bench.
“I think one of the things is the first place you tend to go with the bench is sometimes the front-row, but the scrum was dominating. Then as soon as you start playing around with the scrum some of the players that came on turned the ball over or missed tackles and then you’re a little bit loathe to put other bench players on. And some of the most important players in keeping your structure are the ones you want to keep in place.
“It’s never as simple as just putting players on and saying, ‘oh, he’ll freshen things up’. You’re always looking at the players who are on there, and the feedback we were getting was that ‘they’re okay and they can keep going’. Once we got messages that they were starting to fade we tried to work our way through the bench. But they earned the lead that we had, and so it’s hard to then take them away, and some of the players who did come off, when we’d earned a 16-point lead, they’ll look back now and they’ll have their own frustrations.”
There remains a huge carrot of an historic series win in South Africa, something only New Zealand (once) and France (twice) have managed apart from the Lions, yet Schmidt noted dryly: “It’s kind of a paradoxical week for us, it’s a huge week and we can’t do too much to prepare!”
“We’re trying to balance that recovery factor with a really good preparation. The fact that we’ve had two weeks together now will certainly help, we’ve managed to get half a dozen trainings together.
“Having to be pushed on to a flight that was four hours later yesterday meant that our whole day was put out of kilter. We were sitting around at airports and sitting around all day just meant that you don’t get as good a recovery. We’re trying to get as much recovery time today and kick-start our week tomorrow.”
“It couldn’t be much more finely balanced and as disappointed as we are with the last 20 minutes of last weekend, what people thought might happen on this tour and what the players put on to the pitch are I think two different things.”
“I’d love to see that continue on Saturday, I know the Springboks have got some rhythm and the power-play that they demonstrated in that last 20 minutes will put them on the front-foot. We’d love to turn that around and surprise everyone again.”
He admitted that fatigue is a concern coming into the 52nd and last week of 17-Test season for many of this squad. “Yea, sure. I’m always concerned about a lot of things. The strategy, the tiredness, what the opposition are up to and what decisions might get made on the pitch.
“So, we’ll try to manage as many of those variables that we can as possible. Hopefully we can get some freshness into the game right from the start and try to continue that throughout.”