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'The opportunity that exists is really precious' - Schmidt set for Grand Slam shot

Journal.ie logo Journal.ie 12/03/2018 Murray Kinsella
Rugby Union - Six Nations Championship - Ireland vs Scotland - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - March 10, 2018   Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt during the press conference after the match   REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne © Reuters Rugby Union - Six Nations Championship - Ireland vs Scotland - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - March 10, 2018 Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt during the press conference after the match REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

STRAP YOURSELVES IN, folks.

It’s Grand Slam week.

While there is, of course, scope for deep disappointment for Ireland and their supporters on Saturday in London, it is also an opportunity to create history.

Joe Schmidt and his team secured their third Six Nations title in five years over the weekend but the immediate sense was that this group is nowhere near satisfied yet.

a group of people watching a football ball in front of a crowd: Ireland aren't finished yet. © Tommy Dickson Ireland aren't finished yet.

Any celebrations were muted by the fact that Ireland watched England’s defeat in Paris in their suits at the Aviva Stadium, having already notched a bonus-point in their own victory over Scotland earlier in the day.

And there was little sense of ecstasy purely because of what can be achieved at Twickenham. A Six Nations title is great, sure, but Schmidt and his players will feel major regret if they let this Grand Slam shot slip.

The likes of Ronan O’Gara, Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll sealed their status as greats of Irish rugby by playing central roles in the 2009 Grand Slam – one of only two in Ireland’s history – and this weekend provides an opportunity for others to join them.

In pictures: All the key moments from Ireland's 28-8 win over Scotland (Photo Services)s)

 

“I think by pure evidence of performance and results, I think you’d have to say so,” said Schmidt on Saturday when asked if he felt this Ireland squad has players of a similar stature.

“Three championships in five years. There are some very consistent personnel during that period: Rory Best, Peter O’Mahony, Devin Toner, Cian Healy and Jack McGrath.

“There’s Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton obviously, they have been incredibly consistent through it, and so has Rob Kearney.

a person standing in front of a crowd: Schmidt is delighted for Keith Earls. © Bryan Keane Schmidt is delighted for Keith Earls.

“Keith Earls. I am delighted for Keith Earls because he probably would have had two other [titles] but he was injured. It’s fantastic for him to grab what he really deserves as well, and then there’s this young crew.

“James Ryan doesn’t know what it’s like to lose a Six Nations! There are kids like that who need to understand what Johnny said.

“They need to understand that this doesn’t happen very often. This is incredibly tough to do and the opportunity that exists next week is really precious.”

It’s Schmidt’s job to talk up the English publicly this week, while simultaneously highlighting to his players where they are vulnerable, where Ireland can strike at them when they’re down after two consecutive defeats for the first time under Eddie Jones.

a rugby player on a field: Bundee Aki after Ireland's win over Scotland. © Oisin Keniry Bundee Aki after Ireland's win over Scotland.

There is little doubting that the England squad contains high levels of individual quality and even with the English breakdown in alarming shape, Ireland will be pushed to their limits.

Although Schmidt has achieved so much as Ireland boss, a win in Twickenham has eluded him in his three attempts so far.

“I think they’re going to be really dangerous,” said Schmidt of the English. “The personnel that they have, I’ve seen them play often enough – I actually watched them train with the Lions and they have an exceptional level.

“They have extreme pace: Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Jonny May. They have players that have that sort of speed, they have great experience in their halves with Danny Care, the number of caps he’s got and the same with George Ford and Owen Farrell.

PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 10: George Ford of England during the NatWest 6 Nations championship rugby match between France and England at Stade de France on March 10, 2018 in Saint-Denis near Paris, France. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images) © Getty PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 10: George Ford of England during the NatWest 6 Nations championship rugby match between France and England at Stade de France on March 10, 2018 in Saint-Denis near Paris, France. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

“Up front, the real experience they have. I don’t know if Dylan Hartley will be back but Jamie George deputising for him, you know that he’s a fantastic player and was in the Lions being selected as a top quality starting player.

“Across the board, you know how tough that is going to be. They’re wounded, but they’re far from dead and buried. They’ll have a really resilient resolve to come back, bounce back and beat us.”

Looking at his own team, Schmidt will have to ensure his medical team are at their best in the coming days.

Sexton’s involvement in training last week is understood to have been affected by a back/hamstring issue before he fronted up on Saturday, while Cian Healy suffered a stinger-type injury during Saturday’s win over Scotland.

At this stage of the Six Nations, it’s rare that any player isn’t dealing with a niggle of some sort and Schmidt indicated that Ireland will have to get “the glue and sticky tape out” in the earliest part of this week before ramping up for Tuesday and Thursday’s full training sessions.

Schmidt certainly won’t expect any player to be admitting that their body is feeling the effects – no one would risk missing the opportunity that awaits against the English.

A precious chance.

Six Nations team of the week (Read Sport)

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