Joe Schmidt admitted he had spent the week reflecting on Ireland’s poor performance against England, but has selected the right side to get the Guinness Six Nations defending champions back on track in Scotland tomorrow.
Defeats have not happened too often on this head coach’s watch over the past six seasons but for a man determined to drive his players onward to greater performances, last weekend’s opening-round reverse at home to a powerhouse English side was a bitter pill to swallow.
He admitted in the immediate aftermath of the 32-20 mauling that his team had been bullied and beaten up in a first home defeat of his championship career, leading to some introspection on Schmidt’s part in the days that followed.
“For me, it doesn’t get any easier,” said Schmidt yesterday after he had announced his team for Murrayfield.
“I was speaking to a group of coaches yesterday and they were asking me about things like that (losing) and I think it’s just as tough, and they felt, ‘but surely your past results protect you?’, and it doesn’t protect you from anything. It certainly doesn’t protect you from yourself.
“Did we do enough work last week? Did we get them primed the way we needed to be when we knew that brutality was coming? Did we push too hard on the side of being disciplined, trusting that officials would take care of foul play?
“Were we too clean, do we need to push the boundary more? And to be honest, I don’t think we do. I think we play a really physical game.
"There’s not a hell of a lot of sleep that happens on a Saturday and Sunday evening, trying to decipher what’s best and what needs to happen next.”
Schmidt believes he has cracked the code and, though four of his five changes to the team which started against England were forced by injury, he was understandably positive about his selection to face the Scots.
With lock Devin Toner, No 8 CJ Stander and centre Garry Ringrose ruled out since Tuesday, and last week’s full-back Robbie Henshaw going down with a dead leg in that day’s training session, the Irish management have recalled Rob Kearney at 15 and handed opportunities to impress to Connacht second row Quinn Roux, Leinster back-rower Jack Conan and Munster No 13 Chris Farrell.
The one tactical switch was to promote British & Irish Lions openside flanker Sean O’Brien to the number seven jersey, with the unlucky Josh van der Flier replacing his Leinster clubmate on the replacements bench, where Ultan Dillane comes in for Roux.
It is a chance for the entire Ireland squad to show their resilience and show they did not get to number two in the world rankings by accident.
“One of the great things about the game is when it’s at the start of the championship, you have got to get straight on with the next game and so you’ve got somewhere to go,” said Schmidt and having got somewhere to go, you’ve got to dust yourself off and immediately start to demonstrate your confidence in the group, because you can’t not be confident in the group.
“What they have achieved is fantastic. People have often just talked about last year, but I think going back-to-back in ’14 and ’15, they’ve demonstrated a real resilience when they had to bounce back.
“Five changes? I’m asked about having five changes, I think that’s perfect. You know it’s exactly what you may suffer later on in the year and therefore let’s invest in people now, let’s get them out there and let them demonstrate that they own the jersey and demonstrate they have the right ability to contribute.”
The other positive for Schmidt is that the enforced changes make this weekend’s game another dry run for the rigours of a World Cup campaign, which begins against Scotland in Yokohama on September 22.
It also emulates the 2015 nightmare, when Paul O’Connell, Johnny Sexton, Peter O’Mahony, Jared Payne and a suspended Sean O’Brien failed to reach the quarter-final stage and Ireland lost to Argentina.
Yet, the Ireland boss steered clear of making that part of the exercise.
“I don’t want to operate in worst-case scenario situations,” he said. “Even in training, sometimes you might take a player off and say, ‘righto, we’ve only got 14’, because you are trying to cover as best you can those worst-case scenarios.
“Not only that, I think the coaching staff, we’re pretty excited about seeing some of the guys, who’ve come in. They’re pretty excited about getting an opportunity.
“One of the worst things that can happen is you focus on who you don’t have as opposed to who you do have.
“Rob Kearney, the solidity, the experience that he offers at the back, that isn’t something that causes us great consternation.
"I don’t know if you’ve looked back at his moments last week, he was really good off the bench. I thought he showed a real physical edge and our lineout didn’t seem to suffer.
“I think Scotland are going to go after our lineout. They are going to close the gap and bump us.
"Whatever we do get is likely to be untidy.”
BREAKING | Scotland make four changes for this Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Ireland @BTMurrayfield.
🔄 Berghan and Strauss replace injured Nel and Skinner, Gray & Maitland return from injury for Toolis and Kinghorn who move to the bench.February 7, 2019