Winning a Triple Crown at Twickenham tomorrow will give Ireland’s players a massive confidence boost after five years without any silverware, says Joe Schmidt, but the head coach has warned they will have to roll their sleeves up to beat England.
Just five games into Schmidt’s tenure as national team boss having succeeded Declan Kidney at the end of last season, the New Zealander’s debut Six Nations campaign can deliver a first trophy this weekend as Ireland put their two-game unbeaten start to the championship on the line against a powerful English side on their home turf.
While talk of a Grand Slam to emulate Kidney’s 2009 triumph in his debut season as Ireland coach is still a way off yet, Schmidt did not shy aware from Triple Crown talk yesterday as he named an unchanged team from the one which demolished Wales 26-3 a fortnight ago.
“I just think it would be great for the team to get that step, that confidence,” Schmidt said. “We play for silverware. We have some key performance indicators that give us feedback on how accurate we’ve been, but in the end we’re results driven because we have to be, the public are results driven and we would love to get a bit of silverware, there is no doubt about that at all.
“The team would deserve that if they rolled their sleeves up and got a result, I don’t think you could argue with it.”
Schmidt’s decision to stay with the same starting XV that did such a convincing job in Dublin two weeks ago had been signposted soon after his players handed Warren Gatland his heaviest Six Nations defeat as Wales coach.
With a trip to a stadium England are shaping into Fortress Twickenham under Stuart Lancaster, the Ireland coach will need all the experience he can muster for the first away game of his regime.
The only doubt had surrounded Brian O’Driscoll, who missed training on Tuesday with a stomach bug but the former captain returned to the paddock yesterday and was declared fit and well to win his 131st Ireland cap and make his 138th overall Test appearance, including his Lions Tests that will place him equal with Australia scrum-half George Gregan as the most capped player of all time in Test rugby.
There are changes to the bench, with Munster back rower Tommy O’Donnell making way for Leinster’s Jordi Murphy, who is line for his Test debut.
Dan Tuohy’s broken arm has signalled the promotion of fellow Ulsterman Iain Henderson as a replacement lock, seeing off the claims of returning locks Mike McCarthy and Donnacha Ryan, whom Schmidt described as having “trained the house down” in his two days in camp at the start of the week before being released back to Munster for more game time.
Like Ryan, Henderson offers cover at blindside flanker as well as in the second row while Schmidt indicated Murphy’s recent outings at No.8 as well as openside flanker made him a more versatile option in reserve than O’Donnell.
“I thought Tommy O’Donnell was really dynamic last year. He’s had a very interrupted season and probably is still getting back to where he was last year. I think he’s similar to Jordi in that he’s a very dynamic player and can add real value whether he’s starting or on the bench.
“For Jordi, it will be a massive step up but there’s no way to escape that. I think one of the things about demonstrating your confidence in players and confidence in your wider squad is that it’s probably reciprocated by the player. They take a confidence in themselves that we’ve got some faith in them and hopefully that’s borne out in their performances.”
All those selected are being braced for the Twickenham experience, which Schmidt managed to describe as both cavernous and intimate but he declared himself satisfied the atmosphere in London would not cause anxiety to his players.
“They’ve managed themselves really well. They had a player meeting last night that I observed. They are determined in what they want to deliver and I think when you are process-focused it distracts you from the various pressures that cause anxiety.
“If you’ve got confidence in what you’re doing, if you’ve identified the process that’s most important I think it gives you a confidence that this is what you need to do and it probably distracts you from any anxiety that inevitably will exist. I think it’s a cavernous ground, it’s a big ground but at the same time I think it’s a very close cavernous ground so there’s that cacophony of sound that you get, and it is going to be in the ears of the players. As long as the players stay process-focused — not get rid completely of the anxiety — you can dissipate the anxiousness a little bit.”
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