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Schmidt Backs Centre Duo To ‘Make Things Happen’

Schmidt Backs Centre Duo To ‘Make Things Happen’

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt expects the vastly-experienced centre partnership of Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy to be of the utmost importance in beating Wales this weekend.

Brian O’Driscoll, who is in his final Six Nations before retiring, and Gordon D’Arcy – whose 34th birthday is coming up on Monday – have had many great days together in the blue of Leinster and green of Ireland.

One thing is for certain, they both know how to win against Wales. D’Arcy has won seven times in 10 Tests against Wales, while former Ireland captain O’Driscoll has gained 10 victories in 15 appearances against the Welsh – in addition to scoring seven tries.

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But past triumphs count for little this week as it is all about the here and now, and the challenge of overcoming 2013 champions Wales on Saturday afternoon.

Speaking about the pair at the team announcement press conference, Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt said: “The one thing that they both know, on behalf of the team, is that it’s what they do on Saturday that is of the utmost importance.

“If we put things in a historical context, it is exactly that, that’s what happened, in the past.

“It’s about making sure they make the things happen that need to happen on Saturday and I know they are really conscious of that.”

Schmidt has recalled D’Arcy at the expense of Luke Marshall and captain Paul O’Connell resumes in the second row with Dan Tuohy – O’Connell’s replacement against Scotland – dropping back to the bench.

He believes the freshness of D’Arcy and the preparation with O’Connell and Devin Toner in the lineout the previous week are key in their selection.

“It wasn’t a close call in terms of freshness. Gordon didn’t play at all last week, had a weekend off. He was able to freshen himself up and have a really good start to the week. Last week it was the reverse.

“They (O’Connell and Toner) were named to start last week. When you have a 30-minute and a 60-minute training during the week, you don’t tend to make that many changes.

“The consistency of selection is partly down to that and the change in selection is Paul recovering (from his chest infection) and Gordon D’Arcy being fresh.”

Schmidt dismissed talk of a Warren Gatland-O’Driscoll grudge match as ‘a non issue’. Of more pressing concern is curtailing the kicking opportunities afforded to Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Priestland, but plenty of preparation is going in to ensure Ireland maintain a high level of discipline this weekend.

“You’re very concious of him (Leigh Halfpenny). You’re concious of conceding penalties in your own half because Rhys Priestland has a nice kicking game. He finds great touch and you might be 50 or 60 metres back down the field.

“Our discipline over the four games we’ve played so far (under this management) has been better than anyone. We’d hope that would continue.

“It’s something we are working incredibly hard on, even in training. If we see anyone that is off their feet, or a half an inch offside, we are trying to pull them up straight away and keep that message coming in so we concede as few as penalties as possible.”

Some feel the physicality brought by the Welsh centres may limit the attacking threats of O’Driscoll and D’Arcy, however Schmidt reckons it will depend on the battle up front.

Northampton Saints’ 18-9 victory over Leinster in December is being talked of as a template for a Welsh victory in Dublin, but the New Zealander said that was the way the Welsh tended to play anyway – direct and physical.

“It depends what happens up front. If we can get that continued quality set piece we’ve had, in the four games so far, that is a massive boon for us. Maybe we can get them thinking instead of us.

“It is one of those things we have tried to calculate and work out how best we counteract what we believe they are going to do, particularly if conditions are a little bit sticky.

“You are caught between making sure your front line is incredibly dense and well-populated and physical, and at the same time making sure you have the coverage in behind,” he added.