Schmidt not ‘super comfortable’ with weight of expectation

Ireland coach unconcerned over referee for New Zealand clash despite previous history

Time was when Irish teams traditionally preferred having the tag of underdogs, but under Joe Schmidt Leinster bucked that trend and one of his stated goals was for Ireland to do the same.

For all Steve Hansen’s amusing assertion that the tag belongs to his team, whom the bookies make 10/1 on favourites as against Ireland’s odds of 6/1, Irish fans will certainly travel to the Aviva Stadium in more hope than might normally have been the case, given not just the win in Chicago but the last meeting there three Novembers ago.

A nation expects and all that, but understandably that seems to add to Schmidt’s discomfiture.

“I don’t think you’re ever super comfortable with the expectation, because we stay focused on trying to hit some performance markers and sometimes the expectation; we don’t control,” he said after unveiling his hand for the 30th meeting between the countries and the third in his time.



Noting how games can easily swing on any given day, he added: “I don’t think we necessarily tactically did anything that was extra-special,” in reference to the momentous 40-29 win in Chicago. “It wasn’t a lot different to what we’d done in South Africa but you get access points through a couple of lineouts in the first-half, get a bit of momentum and a bit of confidence and suddenly when you’re playing with confidence it’s a little bit different.

“I think one of the advantages the All Blacks have, is that they’ve been afforded the luxury of feeling a confidence about what they can deliver because their performances reflect exactly that.”

Indeed, no two matches are the same, not even when sides meet more or less back-to-back. It's thus also unlikely that Ireland will win the penalty count 12-4, and what's more Ireland have history with Saturday's referee Jaco Peyper, who allowed the French to commit all manner of buffeting, not least on Johnny Sexton, when Ireland lost that grim match in Paris last February by 10-9.

“I think the four penalties is past tense, but it’s a present focus,” said Schmidt. “We try to be really disciplined. People say there’s frustrations around the scrum, but not if players and teams are really keen to make the scrum work and make other parts of the game work. There was a fair bit of ball-in-play time and the crowd got what they came for in Chicago and I think both teams would be keen to deliver that again.”

Shoulder charges

“Look, there are obviously some things from the French game that we were disappointed with and some of those are around the safety of players,” said Schmidt, also noting that referees have had a bigger emphasis on penalising shoulder charges and higher tackles since that day.

“I don’t think it’s something that the All Blacks are going to suddenly deliver, I think they are going to look to deliver a really quality performance that’s disciplined as well. It’s a new day for the referee just like it’s a new day for the two teams. Jaco was nominated as one of the top referees and we’ve got confidence that he will deliver a top performance as well.”

Bearing in mind the strengthened New Zealand selection, notably in their secondrow, it's also less likely that Ireland will nick three throws, which means Ireland will have to generate other access points into the game.

"Ah gee, I hope so, because I think they're going to do both of those things. I'd be surprised if they don't. I do think that their lineout will be better. I think Sam [Whitelock] is world-class. Kieran Read takes over 40 per cent of their lineout ball anyway, so it wasn't as devalued as it otherwise might have been. But with Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick coming in there, the options that gives them across three very, very good lineout players – and Liam Squire is no mug either."

Double jeopardy

“So to actually put that pressure on is going to be a real challenge for us and at the same time they are probably going to get in amongst us a little bit more as well. So if we’re denied that access point, then you’ve got to go looking for other ones, and we’ve worked on potentially where they may be.”

“But it’s almost that double jeopardy. They might have seen something in us, and we saw it ourselves and so we try to repair that a little bit. And we see something in them and suddenly it’s not the same picture because they’ve done a bit of work on it as well. I do think that as I mentioned before the quality of their coaching staff means that they won’t allow us too many different access points after the last time because they do their homework and they do it really well.”

Compared to the history makers from the Chicago meeting, Schmidt’s team selection sees the return of Seán O’Brien for the injured Jordi Murphy, on the understandable premise that it is better to have 50 or 60 minutes out of O’Brien, or 80 if it comes to it, than 20 or 30.

Not surprisingly, Paddy Jackson's superior experience and goal-kicking earns him a recall to the bench ahead of Joey Carbery. The only other change from the 23 on duty in Soldier Field has Iain Henderson on the bench for Ultan Dillane who, it transpires, is nursing a minor knee injury which should not prevent him being available for the Australian game next week.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times