Joe Schmidt tackles issue of poor defence in Twickenham defeat

Ireland coach dismisses conjecture about Rory Best’s captaincy as ‘external noise’

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt during a squad session at Carton House, Co Kildare. On Sunday he will sit down with his assistant coaches to pick a 31-man squad for Japan. Photgraph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt during a squad session at Carton House, Co Kildare. On Sunday he will sit down with his assistant coaches to pick a 31-man squad for Japan. Photgraph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

The Principality stadium in Cardiff on Saturday represents a final opportunity to plea bargain in performance terms for a place in the Ireland squad that travels to the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

On Sunday Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt will sit down with his assistant coaches to pick a 31-man squad and will then inform the players before submitting a list to World Rugby on Monday in keeping with tournament regulations.

The composition of the travelling party won’t be made public until Sunday week, the day after Ireland host Wales at the Aviva Stadium, a match that essentially will have no bearing, injuries notwithstanding, on the make-up of the Irish squad travelling to Japan.

The clamour for a green shirt in Cardiff following last weekend’s Twickenham thrashing has brought an edge to training, some seeking atonement, others desperate for a chance to roll the dice, especially the players who have yet to feature in a World Cup warm-up match; the seven who fall into that category will hope that Schmidt is munificent and the indications are he will be in selection terms for those that are fit.

It’s been a long time since the New Zealander hosted a pre-game media briefing in a match week outside the team announcement but he was front and centre on Tuesday lunch-time to drill down a little deeper into the England defeat.

Reflection

It certainly wasn’t all doom and gloom on reflection, reiterating that Ireland and England were at different stages of the pre-World Cup prep cycle without looking to excuse either the result or performance.

He didn’t shy away from discussing issues that rankled, one of which related to errors in the defence particularly for tries scored by England’s Maro Itoje and Joe Cokanasiga. “Maro Itoje when he went through the front door, that’s one of the worst scores for us to give up.

“We’ve got two props, one is kind of not sure what he’s doing and the other one steps sideways, instead of stepping off the line and Itoje goes straight through. So that was particularly disappointing.

“We decided to defend a certain way off a scrum and three guys do that system and one guy decides not to; Cokanasiga goes straight through and runs 35 metres to score. Now that’s left a little bit of a scar, to be honest, and the only way that scar heals is by making sure there’s clarity and next time out getting some more certainly in what you’re doing.

“We’ve got a count of 37 missed tackles. For us to be below 80 per cent in a tackle count when we’re looking for 90 per cent plus, we know we can’t afford to offer a team the size, the skill and experience of England that amount of latitude. And we gave them way too much latitude.”

‘External noise’

Schmidt dismissed the conjecture about Rory Best captain as “external noise” pointing out that there is “no internal noise” within the squad of that ilk. “Probably for Rory it is that internal noise that is most relevant to him because that is where the decisions are going to be made.

“No roles have been finalised until we name our 31 so no one takes anything for granted. Rory is currently captain and he’ll continue to be captain until further notice really and if that notice comes in the short term than that’s a discussion I’ll have with Rory but at this stage it’s not on our agenda.” 

Later in the conference he briefly revisited the numerical imbalance in relation to the hookers. “We talked about Rory earlier, whether it’s Rob Herring, Niall Scannell or Seán Cronin, they’re all competing for three spots and there are four of them.

“That’s healthy to a point in the way that they help each other and drag each other forward. It was great the way the lineout callers and the hookers got together and started problem solving. I do believe you’ll see solutions and adaptations over the next two weeks because our lineout traditionally has been a massive strength of our game.

“To say that suddenly after one poor performance that you need to throw things out is a bit of a knee-jerk reaction.

“I can’t guarantee it’s (the performance against England) an aberration, but if you have been working with a group for 6½ years, and one time and one time only, they let a game get away from them to that extent in offering up that much lineout ball to opposition, missing that many tackles, then I have real confidence that this group will turn this around.”

Jack Carty will start at outhalf with Sexton given 20 minutes off the bench. “Ross (Byrne) didn’t train on Monday, he got a number of bangs so, it’s highly likely that will mean Jack (Carty) will start. If Johnny’s (Sexton) involved he will probably come off the bench. We’d limit his game-time to maybe 20/25 minutes and then try and get him 65 minutes against Wales the following week. That might be a rough sketch of where we are at the moment and then we’ll see how that is.”

Is Sexton wasn’t ready then Byrne might bench although Schmidt did add the rider that “we might even change it up again on the basis of thinking ahead in (the event) that we take two outhalves and three scrumhalves, who else in the backline can cover that outhalf spot. I guess we’ll look at our options there.

“So, there are guys who are going to get an opportunity this weekend and if they perform better than any player who played last weekend then there is always a contest and you have got to keep that contest live.”  

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