RBS SIX NATIONS:
Ireland v Wales
Warren Gatland has been questioned in the past for the straightforward, direct approach of his Welsh team but Joe Schmidt is the one preaching the need for simplicity this week.
The six-day turnaround between Ireland’s dates with Scotland and the Welsh has limited the home team to just 90 minutes of onfield preparation and the results can be seen in Schmidt’s team and the coach’s stated approach to the 80 minutes.
Gordon D’Arcy returns to inside centre, as expected, in place of Luke Marshall but Schmidt denied it was by way of any pre-planned plot and claimed it was instead a result of the draining effect the opener had on Marshall.
“If you’d seen Luke post-game he was a bit of a spent force,” said Schmidt who gave the thumbs up for the 22-year to return to duty at Ravenhill tonight, where he will sit on the bench against the Ospreys.
The Kiwi also alluded to D’Arcy’s familiarity with the players either side of him — Jonathan Sexton and Brian O’Driscoll — and his “know-how” to stand up to the brutes Wales will unleash down the Irish 10-12-13 channel.
The only other change to the XV that started against Scotland was even more obvious, with Paul O’Connell recovering from his chest infection sufficiently to be named at lock instead of Dan Tuohy, who proved an able deputy last Sunday.
There were two or maybe three ‘either-or’ selection choices which, given the truncated nature of the week, fell on the side of those in possession of the jersey while a poor weather forecast will reinforce the need to stick to the A, B, Cs.
“I did think we played a reasonably simple game plan last week,” said Schmidt when asked about the influence of Mother Nature. “We were just trying to be effective in what we did deliver. I’m hopeful we don’t have to stray too much away from that. With the time that we’ve had on the field to prepare this week, we’ve kept a lot of the same stuff so we’d be looking to just get some continuity through that.”
One more variable, of course, is the size of the opposition. Schmidt acknowledged that too, expounding on the unique challenge that comes with the weight differential on both sides though it isn’t something new.
Schmidt referred to his days coaching underage in New Zealand when some of the Polynesian kids would dwarf so many others so the challenge posed by the opposition’s so-called ‘Warrenball’ isn’t all that new.
This will be the Kiwis’ first duel as head coaches but their relationship goes back to their playing days when they played for the one representative side at uni and against one another for Manawatu (Schmidt) and Waikato (Gatland).
Their last meeting of minds came when Schmidt was assistant coach at the Blues and Gatland held a similar brief at the Chiefs while the latter’s familiarity with the Irish Lions adds another layer of intrigue to a fascinating encounter.
“Obviously, he’s just coached, to varying degrees, about ten of our lads. Some of them got injured and didn’t have a lot of time on tour, others spent a lot of time on tour with him.
“They give insights into how he’s thinking and what he’s developing. Then you get that double jeopardy where you start to think ‘well, he knows we might do this or we might do that’.
“When we’ve had a half-hour session and a one-hour session this week, I don’t think we’re going to do a lot different to last week because you can’t afford to get too complicated.”
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