Joe Schmidt looks on the bright side despite errors in Russia win
Ireland coach says maul could have worked better but reiterates conditions were tough
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt talks to Johnny Sexton ahead of the Rugby World Cup clash with Russia at Kobe Misaki Stadium, Kobe City. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Joe Schmidt had sensed an anxiety and hesitancy in Ireland’s defeat by Japan and this appeared to resurface in a scoreless half-hour in the middle of Thursday’s 35-0 win over Russia, especially when letting slip try-scoring platforms in the opposition 22.
Yet the Irish head coach maintained he saw more positives than negatives in Ireland’s latest display.
“There were more things that pleased me, definitely. We started well again, we got those two early tries as we did last time. Then, we made a bit of hard work of it. I think one of the plans we had for this evening was to get a few scores early, because speaking to the guys who played here for the last two times, the longer the game goes (on) the more moisture there is in the air, on the ground, on the ball and on the players themselves.
“So, we knew it was going to get more and more difficult as time went on. That was probably a bit of consternation in that third quarter when we didn’t get the bonus point try, but thankfully it was great to see Andrew Conway streak away and get that try and then to finish with the best try of the night at the end, just to get that 35 point differential ... to keep a clean sheet is always great, the Russians have certainly have got a bit to offer.
“They gave up nothing defensively, I felt we made some really good line-breaks but behind the line-breaks they fought really hard and made it very difficult to get anything on the back of those, albeit that we scored a couple of nice tries.
“I thought Johnny [Sexton] saw a nice bit of space for the second try that Peter O’Mahony scored, obviously the set-play to start the game was great. Rob Kearney went through and carried all the way to score it. He probably had three or four support players who could have helped him out. It was nice to get that front foot early, nice to get the bonus point.”
During that period Ireland failed to convert several hard-earned attacking platforms despite a chunk of that time being against 14 men, and had to spend some time defending but, similarly, Schmidt maintained: “I don’t think we lost our way, I just think we didn’t convert some chances and when you look back there were some really good chances. Both in the first and second-half, I felt our maul got going really well and we didn’t get anything on the back of it a few times.
“Rhys finished his try when he muscled up with a bit of help from John Ryan. And then, in that third quarter, there was a bit of frustration. On the back of CJ Stander’s line-break where we got very close to scoring, it was frustrating that we lost the ball in the tackle.
“At the same time I’m pretty realistic about how tough conditions were out there having talked to the players afterwards and I felt that we controlled a good amount of the game, albeit not necessarily scoring in behind that.
“I think, watching the games that have been played here previously, I think England maybe got five tries against Tonga and were made to work pretty hard to get the bonus point as well.
“So, I don’t think it will cause too much frustration. In this tournament, you get what you need from each game as much as you possibly can. We’ve got 11 points from the pool, we still keep control of whatever outcome we get at the end of the pool and we’ve got to aim up at Samoa now and make sure that we put in a performance.
“If we get a win, and anything else, then we know we’ve qualified. We just need to wait for that final pool game between Japan and Scotland to find out where we fall in the pool.”
Sexton, who was captaining the Ireland side for the first time, was asked how far off Ireland are from where they need to for a potential quarter-final against New Zealand or South Africa.
“Look, it’s very hard to say after a game like that. After Scotland we felt we were in a brilliant place, after Japan we were pretty low. Today, we did a job and we were very pleased to get the job done and, like Joe said, to keep the pool in our hands so to speak in terms of our qualification for the quarter-final.
“We’ve got a big game now in nine days against Samoa, everything is really geared up towards that. We’ll worry about what happens after that if we can get the job done next week.”
Schmidt added: “I concur with that.”
As Ireland struggle to find their best form, or at any rate a degree of fluidity to their game, there always remains the hope that they can peak for a one-off quarter-final, something the Irish head coach clearly believes too.
“In the end, when you get to a quarter-final everything hinges on the quarter-final itself. It becomes very much a one-off game and (this is) one thing I learned from last time at the World Cup, it’s that you can be on an upswing but if you’ve got injuries or you’ve got a little bit of a confidence hit because you’ve got a number of new guys in.
“We made 11 changes today and we got the performance that we needed and people will maybe have expected more of the performance but when you look at the stats I am really happy with the performance and the outcome that we got. Yes, there were a number of errors but we created a number of pressure points that we’d be pretty happy with.”