The nerves are building for Joe Schmidt ahead of his first RBS 6 Nations match in charge of Ireland against Scotland on Sunday afternoon.
It has been a long wait since the end of the GUINNESS Series in November for Joe Schmidt and the new-look Ireland management team.
Having had two weeks with his squad, the excitement is growing for the New Zealander as he prepares for his first Six Nations match at the helm.
“I’m nervous. It’s been eight months coming since I had a little bit on my plate prior to really taking up the mantle,” he explained.
“It has been a long time coming since New Zealand really. Those two months have taken a long time. Since we have been together (in this camp) the two weeks have flown by.
“I think it is a case of maximising our time together but at the same time not extending the time you are together, especially not on the field so you don’t flatten players.
“You want them going into games a little bit excited, a little bit fresh and at the same time pretty well organised and fuctional as a group.
“That’s part of the balance we have tried to work through for the last two weeks and hopefully that will be in evidence on Sunday.”
The inclusion of Luke Marshall and Andrew Trimble in the back-line and Chris Henry’s selection in the back row for the injured Sean O’Brien are the only changes to the side that came so close to ending Ireland’s losing streak against New Zealand.
Schmidt spoke about what the trio bring to the team and while injuries and illness played a part – O’Brien (shoulder), Luke Fitzgerald (hip flexor) and Gordon D’Arcy (stomach bug) are currently sidelined – their form in helping Ulster qualify for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals with the only 100% record in the competition was an obvious factor.
“Luke Marshall has played really well in big games, on the Heineken Cup stage, Six Nations last year against Scotland, broke the line at times superbly.
“He played really well against Australia (in November), made a defensive error at one stage but apart from that he’s learning all the time. His application to everything we are trying to do is great.
“He’s between Johnny Sexton and Brian O’Driscoll, so you’ve got that experience that can help him navigate through the game.
“(Andrew Trimble brings) a bit of size. I think with (Rory) Lamont and Sean (Maitland) they’ve got good size. We just don’t have that many sizeable men apart from dragging Shaggy (Shane Horgan) down from the commentary box!
“To be fair to Andrew, he’s played really well in the last couple of games for Ulster, including the win over Leicester. From that respect I think he deserves an opportunity.”
Out of the three players in contention for the position of openside flanker, Schmidt said Henry had done enough to nail down the role for what will be his first Six Nations start.
“(Chris Henry) has come back from injury and all three of our replacement sevens (coming in) for an injured flanker are all coming back from injury.
“Jordi Murphy has probably played the most of them, but Tommy O’Donnell was an initial selection last November so we’ve given Tommy first shot at it – apart from Chris to start.
“He played in November so had a headstart. It’s a pivotal role, the seven, and we are asking a lot of Chris to replace Sean.”
Schmidt’s selected side will be tasked with building on the memorable performance Ireland produced when storming into a 19-0 lead against the All Blacks, and coming within seconds of a famous victory over the World Cup holders.
The standard has been set and the Ireland boss spoke about ‘balance’ once more when asked about getting the players to ‘fire’ first time out against Scotland.
“I think there’s always something we can improve on and so without being too grumpy or negative, we are in a reasonably good place but the evidence of that will be demonstrated on Sunday.
“It’s hard to make some sort of prognostic at this point especially with me, I am a little naive as well.
“I am getting to know the players and the more you work with a group of players the more you know when they are ready to fire. I’m more hopeful than certain because I am always a little bit unsure.
“I think one of the difficult things is you cannot be emotionally at your peak, week in, week out. Inevitably we are human and there are emotional highs and lows and you don’t want to have a trough at all during the Six Nations.
“Can you win a game and mix a really highly emotive performance with a highly accurate performance? I think that is what you are looking for.
“If you are trying to survive purely on passion, you are inevitably going to make errors at times, you are going to be over-anxious, over-eager and maybe fall on the wrong side of the referee.
“So, it’s just getting that balance and hopefully, to be honest, the players bring the intensity and they have an idea of the expectations that are out there for them and they want to meet those expectations.”
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