Joe Schmidt: Ireland must control 6 Nations destiny

Joe Schmidt has warned his players not to get distracted by all the hullaballoo surrounding Ireland as they take their ongoing bid for an RBS 6 Nations Grand Slam to Cardiff tomorrow.

Joe Schmidt: Ireland must control 6 Nations destiny

Schmidt has guided the national side to the brink of history with a run of 10 victories in succession since losing to England in round three of last year’s championship.

The 19-9 win over the English 12 days ago in Dublin equalled the streak set by Eddie O’Sullivan’s team in 2002-03 and one more win this weekend will put the class of 2014-15 head and shoulders above their predecessors.

That it would come as captain Paul O’Connell makes his 100th Test appearance for Ireland, Johnny Sexton his 50th and prop Cian Healy’s half-century too, should he be deployed off the bench, would make it quite the festive occasion.

Never mind putting Ireland within 80 minutes of only a third Grand Slam in their history.

Yet the mindset of the head coach is, as always, on “the process” rather than the outcome, and while Schmidt recognises the significance of beating England for the first time since 2011, as well as the myriad milestones occurring this weekend at the Millennium Stadium, the raised stakes also make losing all the more impactful.

Yesterday, Schmidt restored a fit-again Jamie Heaslip to the No.8 berth at the expense of Jordi Murphy, who drops to the bench having started against England.

It’s the only change to his starting XV, back-rower Tommy O’Donnell slipping out of the matchday squad as a consequence.

And having thrown the dice, the head coach commented on his side’s gathering momentum as they progress from one big match to the next.

“It has a kind of exponential character to it,” Schmidt said. “You get one, the next one does become a little bit bigger again, especially because it’s an away game, it’s an opportunity to stay in front in the championship and keep control of our own destiny in the championship.

“I think the fear for us is that if we do slip up in Cardiff, England are likely to rebound and go very hard at Scotland. I think Scotland (Ireland’s final opponents) will also rebound. I know they are going to be disappointed having lost right at the death last time out (to Italy).

“The problem for us is we can’t control anything that happens outside of the Millennium Stadium in this round of matches, therefore for us it does become a massive game.

“It’s a massive game for a whole lot of reasons. Obviously the amount of respect that Paul O’Connell has in the environment, and even Johnny Sexton and Cian Healy likely to be involved in their 50th caps. An opportunity to do what no Irish team has ever done in the history of the game. The danger is being distracted by those sort of things.

“All we can really do is get into the Millennium Stadium and try and play as well as we possibly can and hope they don’t quite put things together, because we know that if they do then they’re going to be very hard to stop.”

As always, it will require a collective effort from Ireland, the sort that proved too strong for England at the Aviva Stadium last time out and which was driven by Schmidt’s captain, that man O’Connell.

“The centenary of caps may be a distraction but the head coach was prepared to give credit where it is due this weekend, to a player he named captain on assuming the role in 2013. “The person I have come to know is exactly the person I thought he was from afar,” former Leinster boss Schmidt said of the Munster, Ireland and Lions legend.

“He has got incredible self-drive, is an incredibly intelligent man about the game, about particular aspects of the game.

“He is incredibly driven to improve his own performance and thereby leads others in doing that. That is what I have learnt even more.”

IRELAND: R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ulster), J Payne (Ulster), R Henshaw (Connacht), S Zebo (Munster); J Sexton (Racing Metro), C Murray (Munster); J McGrath (Leinster, R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster); D Toner (Leinster), P O’Connell (Munster, captain); P O’Mahony (Munster), S O’Brien (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster).

Replacements: S Cronin (Leinster), C Healy (Leinster), M Moore (Leinster), I Henderson (Ulster), J Murphy (Leinster), E Reddan (Leinster), I Madigan (Leinster), F Jones (Munster).

Millennium Stadium roof will be left open

Tomorrow’s RBS 6 Nations clash between Wales and Ireland will be played under an open roof at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

Wales assistant coach Rob Howley confirmed during a press conference that the roof would be open.

Even if Ireland had wanted the roof closed, it now makes no difference.

If there is disagreement between the teams, then the roof stays open. It can be only closed if both sides agree.

During Warren Gatland’s coaching regime, Wales have consistently preferred a closed roof option, but that will not be the case this weekend.

“It’s open,” Howley said. “We’ve taken the decision it will be open. We wanted to know sooner, rather than later.

“The weather forecast is pretty good for the weekend, and it’s something which we will look forward to.”

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