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It’s An Incredibly Player-Led Environment – Schmidt

It’s An Incredibly Player-Led Environment – Schmidt

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt insists the manner in which his side had to dust themselves down and dig deep makes this year’s RBS 6 Nations title win even more special.

After winning two Heineken Cups, an Amlin Challenge Cup and a PRO12 crown in his three years at Leinster, Joe Schmidt has now added back-to-back RBS Nations Championships with Ireland to his stellar coaching CV.

There is something sweeter about this year’s title, however, with Schmidt pointing to the way in which his players put the disappointment of last week behind them and got the job done in the final round against Scotland.

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“It’s special for different reasons. I think it’s special because of the way we had to rebound from last week (against Wales),” said the New Zealander, who watched his team beat Scotland 40-10 at BT Murrayfield before being crowned champions a few hours later.

“I think it’s special because it’s been so long since we’ve put back-to-back Championships together. I think after last week, the disappointment of missing out on a record (11 straight wins) and particularly on Paul (O’Connell’s) 100th cap, it would have had a little bit of synergy about it.

“So the big guy (O’Connell) just decided to grab the group by the neck this week and drag them into this game with a fair bit of energy and resolve. Thankfully that was just enough to get us over the line.”

There were a number of nervous moments for the Irish camp as they watched the conclusion of England’s 55-35 victory which saw Stuart Lancaster’s men fall just six points short of pipping Ireland to the title.

Schmidt was asked for his thoughts on French winger Yoann Huget’s decision to tap and go and run from his line when the 80 minutes were up. Thankfully, for Irish hearts around the world, the ball was kicked dead shortly afterwards by Rory Kockott.

“To be honest I didn’t notice, I thought the game had finished. I didn’t see until probably 20 seconds after they’d tapped it and I sat there and thought, ‘ah, that’s fantastic,’ then I looked up and thought, ‘that’s no good.’ That was pretty nerve-wracking, but thankfully Rory Kockott kicked it out and the game finished up.”

As ever, Schmidt refused the plaudits sent his way. Instead, he made it clear that the driving force behind this Ireland squad is the players themselves. He also paid tribute to strength and conditioning coach Jason Cowman, who worked tirelessly in bringing the likes of Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy back to full fitness while keeping the rest of the players primed for action.

In addition, the Irish boss was keen to stress how difficult it was to play a physical game against Scotland and then have to play another one emotionally, in watching England and France battle it out afterwards.

“The only think I’d say about the achievement is that it’s an incredibly player-led environment. We have an incredibly good management staff,” he added.

“I think Jason Cowman got them in the condition that they needed to be in. Even in the provinces, they do a great job in making sure we get the athlete that we need. Once they’re in our environment, we have a great medical crew, our analysis guys are great.

“Once the game kicks off, I’m not a lot better than an excited spectator and I was a pretty excited one today through three games. I don’t think it’s good for my heart! Even for the players, they played on physically and then they mentally played another one, certainly emotionally played another one, watching the (England-France) game that’s just finished.”

Schmidt will now park Ireland’s RBS 6 Nations success to focus on his family in the coming days. Less than an hour after winning his sixth major trophy with an Irish side in five years, he admitted his focus will switch to his family and particularly his 11-year-old son Luke who has epilepsy.

Everything about the Kiwi has been impressive since he kick-started his head coaching career at Leinster in 2010/11. The manner in which he was able to switch his mindset and focus on what was important to him so quickly after making yet more Irish rugby history over the weekend was even more impressive.

“(Winning this tournament) is a massive boost for us to be honest, but the reality for me is that I’m on dad duty. I’ve got a sick son and we’re off overseas to see specialists to try to get some help with him, so the reality for me is a long way from rugby when we fly out on Tuesday.

“So I’ll park the rugby for a little while, and we’ll see if we can get really lucky on both sides of what’s important to us. There are 40,000 people with epilepsy in Ireland, so if I can help raise awareness of the condition, then hopefully that’s a positive.

“We’ll look at the World Cup towards the end of April and I’ll be watching performances of players as will the other coaches. We’ll be tracking players through the medical and analysis staff, and then we’ll try to put that together. We’ve got the Barbarians game towards the end of May, and that will probably be the start of it.”