JOE SCHMIDT WILL deservedly receive much of the credit for Ireland’s superbly-executed 26-3 win over Wales yesterday in Dublin but as Peter O’Mahony points out, the national team’s form is player-driven too.
The Kiwi head coach is putting in place intelligent structures for his squad to work within and they are controlling what happens on the pitch. Schmidt has a reputation for detail in his work, but man of the match O’Mahony points out that there has often been such an approach in the Ireland set-up.
The difference is that Schmidt is bringing out the best in the players with his increased demands.
“We’ve always had good attention to detail. I think Joe obviously has a huge attention to detail, but it’s gotten to the stage now where it’s player-driven. So he gives us what we need and we drive it by Wednesday and take it by the reins.
That’s where it has to be if we want to be challenging for the championship come the end of the competition. It’s going to be driven by the players.”
A clear example of what O’Mahony means came in Ireland’s mauling excellence yesterday. Schmidt and forwards coach John Plumtree have provided the players with the details they want improved, the areas they see as being crucial to moving forward in the maul.
Ireland’s forwards have heeded the encouragement and knowledge from former Natal Sharks head coach Plumtree and taken ownership of it.
“Yeah, he’s put a big emphasis on our maul and lineout. He wants us to be a great maul and line-out team. You’ve guys there like Paulie, Dev, Besty, Sean Cronin and Dan Tuohy, they’ve awesome amount of hours done on their laptops, a savage amount of work done.
“Credit has to go to all of them. John is putting in some great structures, but it’s player-driven. We’re going alright there.”
O’Mahony is a player who wears his passion on his sleeve; his powerful renditions of the national anthem are notable only because he backs them up with similar effort during games. Here is a man who reminds us that these players are achieving something special and rare by representing their country.
O’Mahony shakes hands with Leigh Halfpenny following the game. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan.
That fervour has been lacking in the Irish squad at times in recent years, but the players are keen to ensure that does not happen again. Whatever about detail, accuracy, game plan, and tactics, O’Mahony typically believes that Ireland’s attitude was the key to dismantling Wales.
“A lot of it has to go down to the fight and ‘want’ we showed today. I think at the end of the day we wanted it more than they did and that was pretty much evident by the end of it. I don’t think it’ll flatter us, but we just fought for everything and that’s where we need to be at.
“We need to be fighting for every 50/50, everything that goes on the ground. They’re the ones that make the difference I think. We knew it was going to be seriously physical and attritional; that’s the way it ended up.
“We knew our maul was going to be extremely important and set-piece was going to be big, fighting for all those scrappy balls on the ground. I have to say the back three, the fight they had in the air, the challenge, and then guys cleaning up behind them, they were awesome to be fair.”
One of the other major issues that this Ireland squad has had to deal with in recent times has been the lack of consistency from performance to performance. There is some satisfaction that a comfortable win over Scotland has been backed up by a dominant win against Wales.
It feels good. It feels nice to put in a good shift in an Irish jersey. It’s important that we left it in a good place, I think we haven’t done that in the last couple of years. We’ve let ourselves down a few times and we’ve talked about being consistent. I think that’s two consistent performances back-to-back.”
Monday morning will see focus turn to the next challenge, the trip to Twickenham to take on another physically powerful side in England. Stuart Lancaster’s side bounced back from a dramatic defeat to France in round one to record a 20-0 victory over Scotland yesterday.
O’Mahony is relishing the opportunity to take on the English.
“It’s always a huge game, it’s always savagely physical and it’s always a game you love playing in in an Irish jersey.”