Joe Schmidt rues loss of shape despite Ireland win
Coach said it was similar to Italy game with his side becoming a bit ragged after changes
After scoring five tries against Wales, most coaches can afford to take time out to bask in the glory. A bonus point win and the Grand Slam still on for Ireland with Scotland next and England in the final game and yet Joe Schmidt feels frustrated.
Ireland had dominance of territory (75 per cent) and possession of the ball (69 per cent) before allowing it to develop into a fraught three point game. That was not part of Schmidt’s thinking.
It was, said the Irish coach, similar to Ireland’s game against Italy, when his team had the winning of the match but invited the Italians back into contention.
So Wales were offered hope by Ireland before they were finally put to the sword by Jacob Stockdale’s interception in the final sweeping attack of the match.
“It was almost a repeat of our last game against Italy,” said the Irish coach. “Once the changes started to happen I think we lost a bit of our defensive shape. There are things we need to work on.
“It is frustrating that at 27-13 we didn’t keep that margin or grow it. We know we can do better. I think one of the things is that when we made personnel changes, we got a bit disconnected and it allowed them a fair bit of latitude to score tries and they scored some good ones,” said Schmidt.
The coach backed his outhalf Johnny Sexton when he opted to take a tap penalty late in the second half rather than kick for three points and take the match two scores away from Wales.
It was most unlike Sexton, to forfeit the three points for a tap and solo run. But his kicking boots were at home.
“Look, I’d back him 100 per cent,” said Schmidt. “He felt that they could score and we can’t get too much closer without scoring than we did. In retrospect he might look to kick that goal as Conor (Murray) did towards the end to give us that 10-point margin and take a bit of pressure off.
“But it was something that he had said at half-time. He said when we are getting penalties they are turning their back so let’s all be ready. To be honest, I love that about Johnny. He is always looking for opportunity and I am pretty sure the crowd enjoyed it as well because I heard a hell of a yell when he tapped it I am not sure I was yelling with the crowd but it is great that he seizes the moment.”
Sexton, along with Conor Murray and Keith Earls had minor physical complaints with Earls and Sexton leaving before the end of the match. But Schmidt remained unconcerned about their fitness
“Keith Earls is good,” said the Irish coach. “He was getting cramp in his calf. The danger is leaving him out there he could damage himself. It’s nothing concerning.
“Johnny had just got a knock. I don’t know if you noticed but he decided he was going to carry today and play like a big man, which he did admirably down in the right-hand corner at one stage where he picked and went and got about two or three metres forward in the lead up to Cian’s (Healy) try.
“He probably had a bit more contact than he normally does. He did some things superbly, brought other players into the game.
“That is one of the beauties of having Johnny there is the timing of his pass to Rob Kearney to break an inside shoulder tackle and he got a great pass away to Keith Earls in the first quarter where Keith got into some big space with his acceleration.
“He really topped it off with his pass to Jacob for the first try. That was a super, super pass for Jacob to jog in. He showed the full gambit.
“Unfortunately, today his goal kicking wasn’t what it normally is but I guess to coin a golf analogy you can be super off the tee, your short irons can be great but he just didn’t quite have the putting game that he normally does.”
Schmidt does have some concerns about how Wales were able to open up the Irish defence out wide. He knows that Scotland will arrive with strike runners like Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland and Tommy Seymour.
At times the Irish team were easily exposed and in the end the threat of Wales turning the match on its head despite their miserly possession was real.
“Yeah it is the Hoggs, Seymours and Sean Maitland – very quick athletes,” said the Irish coach. “It’s always a concern. I think we helped them (Wales) a little bit. But lots of positives. Eight tries (against Italy) and five tries (against Wales).”
Rory Best took time out to praise the younger players on the side. With Stockdale nabbing two tries and Chris Farrell earning man of the match, their graduation into the senior side has been eye catching.
“We know we can win games in whatever way we need to,” said the Irish captain. “This group, the beauty is that, they’re a little bit less experienced but they don’t have the stigma of losing attached.
“They haven’t been in various positions like more than a score down against a side like Wales and knowing how difficult it can be to get that back. When you get young guys in there who, no matter what the score is – James (Ryan) and Ports (Andrew Porter) especially – they just want to carry, want us to get us back into the game.
“They all want to win, they all expect to win. They put in a lot of hard work, obviously over the last four weeks but more than that. It is very exciting but it’s important we move that in the right direction. You have to get better week on week in this championship.”
Farrell, apart from being a physical unit in the centre is also a good communicator on the pitch.
“From his time in Ulster, I know how big he is, how big a carrier he is and how good his hands are but his communication out there was superb,” explained Best.
“He’s always talking, always giving you options. Sometimes you can play them, sometimes it makes the defence a little softer to go through because he is an option out the back. It’s probably one of the most impressive things about him.”