Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has praised the unsung heroes in the set-up – the unused players, the support staff behind the scenes and the young Academy players who provided opposition in training – for their work in preparing the squad throughout the successful Six Nations campaign.
The RBS 6 Nations trophy looked right at home at the Aviva Stadium today as Joe Schmidt and fellow coaches Les Kiss and John Plumtree spoke to the media about Ireland’s title-winning exploits.
The celebrations continued into St. Patrick’s Day, but with a busy programme of provincial matches on the horizon Schmidt wants the players to maintain their best form when they return to playing with their provinces.
Although the focus has understandably been on the influential figures who got Ireland over the finish line against France, the New Zealander gave special mention to the squad members who had an input despite failing to break into the matchday 23.
“What I think really did go well for us was the wider squad. The training atmosphere was fantastic, the environment at camp,” said Schmidt.
“Outside the starting fifteen and the wider group of substitutes who came off the bench and made a real impact – all those things were outstanding – but the wider group again, they contributed massively.
“There’s a number of them you’d mention, but I’d probably leave somebody out. Somebody that really stood out for me was Donnacha Ryan who came in for the last two weeks. He’d had one game of rugby – or one full game of rugby – and he took over the running of the opposition lineout, the preparation, and he was just phenomenally good at it.
“Across the board, guys were great and kept pressure on individuals.”
The training camps in Clonmel and Belfast, coupled with the pre-tournament open training session at the Aviva Stadium, also helped to keep the players fresh and give them the added buzz of training in front of the fans.
Schmidt continued: “Another real success for us was the open (training) day here (at the Aviva) before the whole thing even kicked off. I think players get excited when they see there’s a really genuine interest, the 5,000 tickets were snapped up straight away.
“There was a little bit of atmosphere there that day and I think the Irish Under-20s (who trained with us) managed to make a bit of a gap in us a few times, and it was a little bit the same in Clonmel.
“Joe and Pauline (Winston) at the Clonmel club there made us feel incredibly welcome. While the weather wasn’t too welcoming, the Munster Academy lads did a fantastic job helping to prepare us.
“It was no different in Newforge where we were really welcomed, Jane Gourley looked after us really well and again the Ulster Academy lads were great to work with.
“Just getting around and having that opportunity to train as a group and broaden the group at different times – that’s probably one of the most satisfying things for us and that’s outside gameday.”
Schmidt is well-versed in deflecting praise for his coaching achievements and he highlighted how much of a ‘player-driven’ squad he has at his disposal, while also taking time to mention the work of the support staff and those behind the scenes at Carton House, Ireland’s regular training base.
“We’re privileged to have a group that get the best out of themselves. I know I’ve said it before, but it is genuinely a player-driven environment and an incredibly supportive environment for the players.
“Carton House look after us incredibly well, you’ve got Jason Cowman leading the strength and conditioning. I think the provincial strength and conditioning in this country is outstanding, so players come into camp in good condition.
“We’ve got a great medical team, the analysis guys – Mervyn Murphy and Vinny Hammond – they’re doing a great job just supplying the information and the footage to the players and some hints about their opponents and things like that.
“At the same time, I remember one of the players complaining because they had to take more than 12 steps from the aircraft to the bus when we landed to play England! Ger Carmody and Sinead Bennett have done a fantastic job in making sure the players get to where they need to be with the minimum amount of fuss.
“With the players as well, we went to Clonmel and we lost power for two hours and had to sit around and talk. I don’t know in the modern day if people do that anymore without a couple of pints – and they obviously weren’t on offer!
“I just thought it was great, they weren’t ruffled at all and they’re just such an easy group to work with and the support around them is working really well.
“Most teams have very, very good set-ups and very, very good players. That’s why those fine margins, you’ve got to try and influence as many of those to make sure the result falls on your side of the ledger,” he added.