Frustrations linger for boss Joe Schmidt

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt praised his players’ successful defensive effort over the closing quarter for securing a second straight victory in the 2015 RBS 6 Nations.

Frustrations linger for boss Joe Schmidt

Yet just as the Irish stymied France on Saturday, Schmidt was equally frustrated by both his team’s tryless performance and the refereeing of the scrum by Wayne Barnes.

Ireland’s penalty count had been averaging seven per game under Schmidt until the weekend, when Barnes sent the figure into double figures, penalising the Irish 11 times and the French 14 times in a stop-start game. The victory, nevertheless, sends Ireland into a round three home clash with also unbeaten England and on course for a successful championship title defence.

Not that Schmidt accepted the invitation to talk up his team, instead echoing his captain Paul O’Connell’s assessment that the performance had been a frustrating one.

“No. I don’t think it’s necessary,” the Ireland head coach said. “You guys will write what you write and you certainly weren’t speaking up our team last week either. You all saw the response that Paul had to the performance, you saw the performance. I was incredibly proud of the defensive display. We fought our corner really well, particularly a man down in that last quarter and they have some of the biggest humans I’ve seen on a rugby pitch coming at us and it’s very, very difficult to arrest their momentum once it begins.”

Schmidt said the defensive effort had pleased him most about the victory as France were kept at bay during a furious final 10 minutes and he added: “I thought our kick-off strategy worked really well. I thought our set-piece in the first half was really good. We didn’t get a lot of luck putting pressure on their lineout. I thought we got some great pressure on them at times and the ball just bounced up to them.

“So those elements were really positive for us. I think it’s very hard to go through a number of phases against a French team that is getting up off the line, if the ruck is slow.

“Paul mentioned his frustration. If you go back and have a look over the game, Conor Murray having to dive pass over players in the ruck and it’s a low pass and then Jamie Heaslip makes a great pick-up but gets hit backwards, and then the momentum changes.

“The players felt a lot of frustration around the back of our ruck, trying to make sure those players were clear and out of the way, because it is something that the referees have been very strict on. We have to take as much care of that as we possibly can and that will be something we will no doubt be working on in the lead-up to England.”

Ireland’s struggle to get on the front foot had been hindered by a series of penalties against them from referee Barnes.

“One of the things that gave them initial momentum were those set-piece penalties and we’re massively frustrated by those,” Schmidt said. “We’ll review those but the scrums had been very good for 50 minutes and the same guy (sub loosehead Vincent Debaty) who walked around last year comes on and two go straight to ground and suddenly it’s our fault. That was a massive frustration because it gave them field position and once they got that field position, they were very difficult to stop coming forward.

“We’ve got to make sure we’re as good as we can be, that we remain as positive as we can be in the scrum. We just hope we get reward for it, which didn’t seem to be the case Saturday.”

As for the high penalty count, Schmidt said: “We’d contest a number of those scrum penalties obviously and I think if you put a line in the sand and you’re consistent and you’re very clear, people start to read that and get out of the way. To have 15 first-half penalties, nine against France, and six against us, that was around about what you have in a whole game. We’re averaging seven penalties a game, so that was really disappointing for us. I felt we were certainly trying to make the effort to avoid that. So, we weren’t happy with that aspect of our game and we’ll be working hard at that over the couple of days we’re in Galway (this week).”

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