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Schmidt: Wales Showed Massive Character To Keep Us Out

Schmidt: Wales Showed Massive Character To Keep Us Out

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt was left ruing a slow start which saw Wales gain vital ground on their way to a 23-16 RBS 6 Nations win in Cardiff. Irish indiscipline allowed Leigh Halfpenny to kick the hosts 12 points clear inside the first 13 minutes.

Ireland were the early frontrunners at the Millennium Stadium two years ago, building a considerable lead which Wales were unable to fully erase. Joe Schmidt’s men did not have that luxury this time around and he felt Ireland did not help themselves during that sluggish opening.

“It allowed Wales to control the first quarter with territory and possession and then we saw some very, very stringent refereeing of the tackle area (from Wayne Barnes). We probably weren’t quick enough to respond to that,” admitted Schmidt afterwards.

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“There wasn’t really that much tempo earlier in the game. The tempo came into the game in the second quarter. Wales won the first four balls in the air, so they did really well. And I don’t think you can take anything away from Leigh Halfpenny and Jamie Roberts in the way that they did that.”

Ireland put together a lung-bursting 32 phases as they battered away at the Welsh defence early in the second period, but a relieving penalty lifted Welsh spirits and they showed a clinical edge when replacement Scott Williams touched down in the 62nd minute.

Asked whether it was concern that Ireland had got into the Welsh 22 on that occasion and failed to score, Schmidt suggested that there was a difference in speed in which rucks were cleared out in the second half compared to the first.

He also explained that Ireland needed to take responsibility for the number of penalties conceded at the breakdown, rather than point the finger at the referee. On top of that, he paid tribute to the superb Welsh defence which made 250 tackles over the course of the game. 

“I think there is concern, I think if someone calculates the speed of rucks in the first half as opposed to the second and the ruck penalties in the first and the second half. We went out with a plan in the second half expecting to accumulate if we played a number of penalties. But they didn’t come in the second half, so we didn’t achieve anything with that strategy, apart from some really good play.

“I felt we put some really good phases together, made some line-breaks and even the big fella here (Paul O’Connell) made a couple himself and we got in behind them really well.

“Wales scrambled really well, they’ve got massive character and they’re really organised. And they muddied the back of the ruck and it was quite difficult for the scrum halves (Conor Murray and Eoin Reddan), talking to them post the game.”

Ireland are now second in the RBS 6 Nations table, ahead of Wales but behind England on points scoring difference – England (+37), Ireland (+33) and Wales (+12). However, Schmidt insists there is no need to go back to the drawing board as Ireland are in a similar position to the one they faced in last year’s Championship.

“I suppose it’s a bit similar to last year where we just knew we needed the result in Paris, and that’s something we managed to do and win the Championship on the back of it and England had to sit and watch. You’ve got to beat those teams first.

“I don’t think in this Championship you can afford to go anywhere and start chasing points. Scotland got very close to beating Wales, and Wales have just beaten us. But for a couple of decisions it could have changed things there with Scotland against Wales. Scotland are going to be very difficult to beat next Saturday.”

The defeat is only Schmidt’s fourth in 17 Tests since his coaching reign began in November 2013 and while he is not of the same mindset as fellow New Zealander Warren Gatland who finds it hard to drag himself out of bed after his side is beaten, a loss is still something he struggles with.

Looking back at the game, Schmidt noted that there were quite a few ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’, including the last lineout drive as Ireland mauled towards the Welsh try-line, the last-minute scrum which resulted in a Welsh penalty, the amount of pressure they applied to Wales in their 22 and ultimately failed to come away with points.

Those small margins are the things he will look back on in the video review, the little inaccuracies which cost Ireland points at crucial stages. But there will be no massive overhaul of the Irish game-plan for their final round outing at Murrayfield.

“I felt at 20-16 (after the penalty try) that we were back in the game. We were inside a score away from them, and I felt we attacked pretty positively right from the restart, got up to halfway and then unfortunately gave them a penalty that allowed them to go further in front. That was really disappointed and further reflected our endeavour but not our accuracy and our performance today.

“The strategy was the same as it has been for the last few weeks. And as I said it’s probably not back to the drawing board. Results have very narrow margins and if you miss a few opportunities…I can think of three or four times that we should have put ourselves in positions to score a try.

“The maul at the end, the maul we missed that Paul talked about, we won those bits of field position. We had a number of attacks inside the 22 that on the back of those, there’s a fair bit of good in the game. I think if you start to throw the baby out with the bathwater, it’s pretty hard to start all over again,” he added.