Scotland v Ireland
Saturday: Murrayfield, 2.30pm
TV: RTE 2, BBC 1
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt looks unlikely to make sweeping changes to his starting XV for Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations finale in Scotland.
Instead he will trust the players who fell short against Wales last weekend to make amends in their bid for a successful title defence.
The 23-16 loss at the Millennium Stadium ended hopes of a Grand Slam for Ireland and brought an end to a 10-match winning run, but, as Schmidt insisted in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s defeat, his team has not become a bad one overnight and there was no need to return to the drawing board and start all over again.
Schmidt’s assistant coach Simon Easterby yesterday hinted that, with an injury-free squad at their disposal, there would not be major surgery in terms of selection when the team is named tomorrow.
When asked if there was a temptation to freshen the starting XV, Easterby replied: “No, I think with only one game left and we have got a pretty good turnaround, a seven-day turnaround.
“If it was six-day turnaround then you might consider certain elements of that, but, no, again the players all trained today, everyone was available for training. We’ll make sure they’re ready and fresh come Saturday.”
Getting bumped and bruised bodies fresh after an immensely physical and attritional game as last Saturday’s is one thing but Easterby also backed the Irish players to put right the faults that led to Ireland quickly falling into a 12-0 deficit and then fail to break through a well-defended Welsh line.
“There were some sore bodies, some pretty disappointed heads,” the forwards coach said of the squad that reviewed Saturday’s game at their Kildare training base on Monday.
“But we had to reflect in the morning and see where we could have improved against the Welsh to make sure we do that against the Scots. That is the mark of this team; there know there are areas we could clearly have got better last weekend but we have an opportunity to put that right.”
Ireland’s championship fate is now not entirely in their hands as the fifth and final round of games approaches. Wales kick Super Saturday off needing to wipe out an inferior points difference with a victory in Italy before Ireland, trailing England’s points differential by four, attempt to set Stuart Lancaster’s side a decent target in the final game at home to France.
Easterby, though, returned to the theme outlined by full-back Rob Kearney on Monday when he reiterated that to look past the actual challenge of defeating Scotland to points totals was not just disrespectful but also counter-productive.
“We can’t control what goes on elsewhere and I know maybe it sounds a little bit like we’re not worried because it is something that’s going on, but we have to concentrate on our job and we know that, if we don’t put a performance in, it’s not going to matter what happens elsewhere.
“We know we have to put in a performance and get a result that gives us the best opportunity regardless of what happens elsewhere and then it’s all up for grabs. But, we have to win first.”
To do that, Ireland must make amends in a number of key areas they were found wanting in Cardiff — the slow start and indiscipline that allowed Wales to charge into a 12-0 lead after 13 minutes; inferiority in the air; an inability to convert pressure, possession and territory into scores and a malfunctioning lineout, the area for which Easterby is responsible.
“We clearly have missed a few opportunities,” he admitted. “The ones we lost especially in the first-half were really disappointing. The one on the try line, a clear opportunity to go and have a crack at them at the maul because I think later on in the game when we did get our maul set it was pretty effective.
“We’re really disappointed the high standards that have been set over the last couple of years by the players in particular but also by the coaching group we didn’t quite get right at the weekend. Sometimes that happens. You have got to applaud a little bit of good defence but also there is sometimes human error in what happens at the lineout.
“There are so many moving parts but they are easily fixable. That is my job. My responsibility is to make sure that doesn’t happen again because clearly we had a few issues in the first half. At half time we spoke and were able to resolve a few of those issues and our second-half lineout was far stronger and we got into those opportunities where we were five, six, seven out and we did get some gain from our maul. It was disappointing, no doubt.
“But we have, like I said, a turnaround of seven days to put something right for the last game of the championship. The boys will be hurting for a lot longer (if we don’t get it right) because they might have three or four months before they put on a green jersey again. At least we have an opportunity to put some of the wrongs right within seven days.”
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