HE MAY HAVE brought Ireland to the brink of a historic win over the All Blacks and orchestrated the humbling of Six Nations holders Wales in recent months, but Joe Schmidt believes plotting the downfall of England in Twickenham is the toughest challenge of managerial career so far.
“I haven’t got a context for it really as I’ve only coached at club level. I think trying to plot the downfall of any New Zealand team is tough and we gave that a bit of a go.
“I think one of the toughest challenges was going to away to Bordeaux and trying to beat Clermont in a semi-final a few years ago.
“There’s been some that stand out in my mind but none of them would be tougher than this.”
With one win and one loss under their belt, some pundits have written off England’s Six Nations chances. The Kiwi though is not one of them.
“I think they’ve played really well. I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks that France were maybe a little lucky to get out to the lead they got at 16-3 after 35 minutes. For England to get back into the game, to be in the game at half-time and work their way into the lead and one defensive slip up — that’s the nature of the French, you can’t give them that — they played very well there.
“They probably would have been frustrated at times last week against Scotland, I don’t think conditions helped but they are probably more than 20 points better than Scotland. They really did look dominant and have the physical capacity to dominate teams.”
So how will Ireland counter that physical dominance?
“We’ve got to get the little things right. When you have a strategy going into a game the only way you can impose that is by getting the little things right, by being in control of the ball when you need to be and getting the pressure on when you need to and they only way to do that is to be well organised and combative.
“When we don’t have the ball, it’s going to be tough to get it back off them and when we do have it, they’re going to come at us so we’re going to have to be very accurate in what we do.”
Kicking, something Wales struggled with against Ireland, is one aspect the 48-year old believes is going to be a key part of the host’s game-plan and concentration will be key on defence.
“I expect that England will kick very well. With Danny Care kicking from the base, Owen Farrell mixing up his kicking game — I think he has a real variety in his kicking game — and then from the deep you have the long left foot of Mike Brown.
“I’ve no doubt at all that we’ll have to be prepared to cover the ground and defend very well, both with the ball in the air, the ball in behind and with big runners running at them. To be fair, I think they did that reasonably well.”
Schmidt was speaking today after announcing an unchanged XV from the side that so comfortably dealt with Wales two weeks ago. The decision to retain the same side though, was far from easy though.
“It wasn’t straightforward [to name the same team]. There were some guys who we felt played pretty well at the weekend but it’s pretty hard to gauge Pro12 to Test match, there is quite a gap between the two and the players who have played for us so far have played very well in the first two games so it’s a combination of those two things.”
As for Brian O’Driscoll, who sat out a training session with a bug this week, Schmidt says he is 100% ready to go, even joking that his status within the team had earned him a day off.
“He probably could have trained. You get to that level and he’s allowed to use his ‘get out of jail free card’ and so he had a training off.
“He was back training fully today and trained well.”