Schmidt: Ireland must “defend the Aviva” to finish in top two

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt is approaching his first RBS 6 Nations campaign with his feet firmly on the ground. Speaking at the launch of the 2014 tournament this morning in London, the New Zealander gave a nod to the ultra-competitive nature of the Northern Hemisphere’s premier competition, while talking of the need to make Ireland’s home ground, the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, a fortress.

“I think if we could defend the Aviva that would be great,” he said. “If we managed to win an away game [as well], against England or France, I think that would put us in the mix. Certainly, that would give us a chance of being in the top two and I think that would be a fantastic achievement from where we’ve come from.

“I’m certainly not saying that that’s going to be easy to make happen, but I think that would represent a very successful [tournament].”

Schmidt also bemoaned Ireland’s lack of recuperation time ahead of one of their biggest games of the tournament – the home fixture against Wales in week two.

“Even just winning those home ones would be good, especially with Wales on a six day turnaround – that’s a really big ask. I think it’s unfortunate we’re not going to get a good run into what is a really tough team to beat, on the back of what is a really combative team in Scotland.

“Putting all that in context, it’d be great if we could achieve something that is in the top half, ideally in the top two, but there’s so many good teams out there and those congestive two first weekends, you could be chasing your tail from the start.”

Of course, the last time Ireland ran out at the Aviva Stadium it was in that epic, nail-biting game against New Zealand. That day, it’s fair to say, the majority of the rugby world outside of those two isles let out a sigh of anguish as Ireland snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Schmidt spoke openly of the recovery process from the crushing disappointment of that day, while also proclaiming there was plenty they could take out of it as a team.

“I think the process was reasonably short for the players – we touched on it briefly, and we had a couple of days just before Christmas where we looked a few things from the autumn series and tried to do a bit of repairing of things and also take a bit of confidence out of the good things we did.”

Of course for Schmidt himself it was a difficult thing to get over, this being his first foray into international management.

“It was a recurring nightmare for me – it’s my first year doing a national team, so normally you’d have a game the following week where you’ve got to get rid of it, and look ahead, but Scotland was a long way away for me.

“It was a little bit surreal the way that it happened, but there’s not too much we can do about that now. What we’ve got to do is try to maximise any confidence we can get out of it.”

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images