Joe Schmidt says Ireland must be patient from the start
Ireland head coach makes it clear they will not be putting the cart before the horse as Iain Henderson replaces Peter O’Mahony
Mentally, this is a tricky one. Ireland go into their penultimate game at home to Italy tomorrow needing a win, even by a point, to maintain their ambitions of a first Six Nations title since 2009. Yet to win the championship, it will assuredly come down to points difference against one or more of the countries currently level with them on four points, and so come kick-off for the finale on Saturday week in Paris, ideally Ireland would want to require no more than a one-point win to seal the deal.
For that to come to pass, the bigger Ireland’s winning margin against Italy the better Ireland’s chances of a second championship crown in 29 years by dint of a win by any margin in the Stade de France. Yet that could be a dangerous mindset, even against a Sergio Parisse-less Azzurri, and Joe Schmidt yesterday made it clear they will not be putting the cart before the horse, hinting that only in the event of nailing down the win can Ireland then start chasing tries.
“The balance at the moment would be tipped massively toward the result,” he re-iterated from the team’s base in the Carton House yesterday when confirming just one change from the starting XV at Twickenham, with Iain Henderson a straight swap for the battle weary Peter O’Mahony at blindside.
“One of the good things is that we’ve got a very smart group of men who play the game and I think we can very quickly change the shape of what we’re doing and we’ve demonstrated that we can play a few different ways so far in the tournament. We can change that up a little if we need to in the last 20 or 30 minutes, or it may be at half-time we get together and maybe change a few things.
“I think sometimes if you go out trying to win everything in the first part of the game, you actually frustrate yourself and you can be overly anxious. You can try overly hard and in the end it’s very difficult to make things come off. So we’ve got to be patient, we’ve got to be really well prepared individually and as a collective because they are going to make it really tough and if we’re not up to it they’ve proven that they can easily get results.”
Within a score
As well as being within a score of Wales until seven minutes from time, and leading against Scotland until the 80th minute, Schmidt highlighted how Italy only let their game against France slip away with the concession of three converted tries in the first 12 minutes of the second half.
“If you put that game in context, took out 10 minutes, and if you played it over the other 70 minutes, Italy were in front and deservedly so. So I’d have to say we’ve got a lot of respect for Italy and we know that we’ve got to get things right ourselves. Yes, we’d love to go to Paris with a good differential but we need to get to Paris with three wins and that’s still our primary goal.”
Henderson is also covering the secondrow, with both Jordi Murphy and Rhys Ruddock accommodated on the bench, which has the added impact of a restored Eoin Reddan to quicken up the tempo in the last quarter or so if required. “Paul’s in great shape and is going to go the distance probably,” observed Schmidt, with a smiling O’Connell alongside him. “Dev is in great form and Iain Henderson has probably played more secondrow than backrow for Ulster and he is pretty comfortable there.
“There is a degree of risk that two of the three might get hurt, but we finished the last 20 minutes of the Wales game with Peter O’Mahony in the secondrow. Rhys Ruddock knows all of the roles in the secondrow and he is ready to step in there if there’s injuries.”
Schmidt confirmed that Johnny Sexton had been passed fit by a hand specialist in playing down any element of risk with regard to playing him. “He sprained his thumb, there is nothing that is untoward about it. He’ll strap it up, just like players strap their ankles, strap their shoulders, strap things that give them support. But, apart from, that he’s good to go. Injuries have to be managed and one of the things that happens is that if you sprain something you get a little bit of internal bleeding and that obviously affects the movement in the joint, creates pain in the joint. Once that inflammation and pain subsides and the bruising goes, then the joint is pretty much functional and away you go.”
Ireland’s hopes have to be enhanced by the back injury which has again prevented Parisse from training this week, obliging Jacque Brunel to rest his leading man in the likely event of recalling him at home to England. Marco Bortolami is recalled to captain the side, with Josh Furno moving from lock to blindside and Paul Derbyshire starting at openside as Robert Barbieri moves from there to number eight.