Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt expects a strong finish to the RBS 6 Nations campaign from his players and is still targeting a top-three finish in this year’s championship.
Schmidt is looking for his side to bounce back from consecutive defeats to England and France and believes that two wins from their final fixtures could see Ireland finish in the top half of the table.
With two homes games to finish the campaign, against Italy on Saturday 12 March, followed by Scotland a week later, the Ireland coach emphasised the importance of maintaining his side’s winning record at the Aviva Stadium.
Ireland have not lost a home Six Nations game under Schmidt’s reign as head coach – their last defeat in the championship coming against England back in February 2013 when Declan Kidney’s side lost 12-6 at the Lansdowne Road venue – and the New Zealander, speaking today to RTÉ Sport, was keen to emphasise the importance of keeping that record intact.
“We have to roll our sleeves up,” said Schmidt. “We’ve got two games to go and we’ve got to make sure that we keep our home record that we have built over recent seasons, that we maintain that proud record.”
And while Schmidt felt that his side had chances to take control of the game at Twickenham last Saturday, he was happy to focus on the contribution made by the three debutants, who he believes will have learned a great deal that will benefit Ireland over the coming games and in future years.
Flanker Josh van der Flier started in the Ireland pack against England and was only denied a try by the TMO, while Stuart McCloskey gained his first cap with a fine display, both defensively and going forward, at centre, alongside Robbie Henshaw.
Connacht lock Ultan Dillane (pictured below) made an immediate impact coming off the bench in the second half when Ireland were chasing the game.
“The three debutants learned a fair bit from the game and they all had some really good visible involvement,” said Schmidt.
“I thought that Josh grew into the game really well, I though Stu carried a couple of times really strongly and Ultan Dilane came on and pinched a line-out of theirs and carried really strongly.
“There were certainly positive elements but they’ve had an opportunity to look back at the game and we’ve had an opportunity to chat through elements of the game with them. And there are certainly elements that they can learn from and hopefully, collectively, that adds value to the coming two matches and far beyond that.”
On a positive note, Schmidt was happy to confirm that there is no long-term damage to Conor Murray’s eye, after the Ireland scrum-half felt the full force of England full-back Mike Brown’s boot, and the Munster man will be back training tomorrow, while Jared Payne is also close to full fitness.
It was confirmed today that Brown would not be cited for the incident.
“The good news with Conor is there is no damage to the actual eye, which is what we feared at the time,” confirmed Schmidt. “He has got eight stitches in the corner of the eye but hopefully will be back training tomorrow without contact.
“His eye is closed over, pretty much, with the inflammation and bruising but there is nothing too damaging there apart from obviously the sutures.
“On the good news front, Jared Payne was back running today and is expected to train fully tomorrow. So hopefully that is the case and it gives us someone coming back into the group instead of someone going outside the group."