Recovery the priority for Ireland after bruising battle
Having superbly constructed a 13-0 lead, Joe Schmidt’s side relieved to salvage a draw
Bruised, battered but unbeaten, the Irish squad will spend much of the next two days recovering from their exertions against Wales at the outset of a daunting six-day turnaround to face a remodelled France in Paris.
As with all draws things could be better, but they could certainly be worse.
Having superbly constructed a 13-0 lead in the first quarter, and then salvaged a draw after falling behind, Joe Schmidt sounded marginally happier than Warren Gatland with yesterday’s physically intense 16-16 draw with the Welsh.
It rules out the Grand Slam and Triple Crown for both sides but keeps both of their title hopes alive.
Encouraged by the performance, Schmidt also declared himself “95 per cent” confident that Johnny Sexton would recover from the unspecified injury which forced his withdrawal five minutes from time.
The Irish outhalf was holding his sternum/collarbone area. After the biffing he took, particularly in the previous 10 minutes or so, his equalising penalty from 40 metres to complete a four-from-four return just before he went off was some effort.
The Irish coach also stated that in addition to Seán O’Brien and Rob Kearney, each of whom should be fit for selection, both “Mike [Ross] and Cian [Healy] could potentially be playing next week, and we just need to make a decision as to whether that’s for us or for Leinster. So potentially, they could come into the mix.”
Against that, whereas he revealed that Tommy O’Donnell passed his pitchside head injury assessment, Keith Earls has probably suffered a concussion. “Again, at this stage I don’t know the full story. I think he passed his HIA but he may have staggered and therefore he would be considered to have had a concussive impact. That would certainly put him in doubt for next weekend.”
“I don’t know what the ball in play time was but it seemed to me that there was some very long phases of play and a lot of those phases; they spent about 20 per cent of their possession in our 22 so that’s just a little bit more attritional.”
The squad will have a non-contact session tomorrow, and a light session on Thursday before flying to Paris.
Denuded of six injured forwards as well as the retired Paul O’Connell from last season’s corresponding match, Schmidt took comfort from the way less experienced players filled in the gaps, especially the debutant CJ Stander.
“So there’s some encouraging things but the feeling in the changing room afterwards was a little bit deflated and a little bit cognisant that we have to go forward, we have to improve further. That’s going to be a challenge because I actually did think we performed really well today.”
Acutely mindful that Wales took the most settled coaching ticket and side into the Six Nations, Schmidt could take particular comfort from denying Wales any line breaks (Ireland made five themselves), while both Earls and Andrew Trimble prevented them from being outflanked with some good reads.
“I think the Argentinians are a bit more efficient at getting to the edges so I’m not sure that we’ve moved on too much,” countered Schmidt.
“I think there might have been a couple of small steps forward but we need to take a big stride for next weekend.”
“Yeah, I think like anything, going into the unknown is a little bit daunting, and seeing some of the athletes they have in the new guys in there.”
Yesterday’s encounter ended, fittingly, with both sides trying to win the game by running the ball from inside their own half after the match clock had turned red.
“As much as I was incredibly desperate that we win it, I thought it was a Test match,” said Schmidt, “and I don’t think too many people would go away disappointed with the levels of intensity and the aspiration of both teams to actually play.”
Gatland echoed those sentiments, but admitted: “I’m not satisfied at all, I feel flat at the moment.
“Emotionally they were probably a little bit better than we were in those first 20 minutes,” admitted Gatland.
“I’m disappointed with the way we started, but good sides are able to get themselves back into the game and we did that.”