Joe Schmidt on why Ireland won't be copying Connacht in South Africa
We're a demanding bunch, us Irish.
Since arriving in Ireland, in 2010, Joe Schmidt has won a PRO12, Challenge Cup, two European Cups and two Six Nations championships.
On Monday, Schmidt was under the pump to explain why Ireland can't play like a team that just won their first final in 132 years.
In claiming PRO12 glory, Connacht rampaged through Leinster. Pat Lam's men produced 10 clean breaks, beat 31 defenders with ball-in-hand and offload nine times. They kept the ball alive as much as possible and played with a mix of rigour and impudence.
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) May 28, 2016
Held up against Ireland's Six Nations campaign - when results counted - Schmidt's men pale. There was a distinct lack of cutting edge, and daring, from Ireland as they ploughed to a draw and two defeats before opening up on Italy and Scotland after the horse had bolted.
Schmidt has earned some leeway this year as he brought in several new players while attempting to move away from the kick-chase and mauling game that won us two championships but left us punctured at the World Cup.
A growing number of Irish fans want Schmidt to get us winning again and, while he's at it, do it in style. The Kiwi argued that Ireland's "shape" was not too far off Connacht's in the Six Nations before explaining how tough it is to sweep in changes during short Test windows. He said:
"I do think in the Test arena it is another level up and it doesn’t always mean that you can play the way that you’d like to play."
Schmidt clearly remains irked by accusations from Warren Gatland and Eddie Jones that Ireland are grinders; a team that kicks ball away and seeks territorial gains over possession.
For the third season in a row, he said, Ireland passed the most ball. Scoring the most tries or making the most line-breaks would be nice but, as we saw with France against Wales, offloading is not the skeleton key it is often made out to be. Schmidt continued:
"We’re trying to get better at all of those things on a regular basis. One of the things is that in 10 days it’s quite hard to suddenly get a season’s worth of progression.
"It’s probably one of my greatest frustrations having come from a provincial or club background into international rugby – you are very, very contained in how much time you have with the player, particularly if you want the player to demonstrate a skill that they don’t already have on arrival.
"t’s very hard to suddenly generate that in 10 days because it takes a lot of repetition and you just don’t have time for that.
"You’ve got to cut your cloth a little bit and we will do that, try to come up with what best suits Rory [Best] and the lads in preparation for South Africa and then try to deliver the best we can in what we’ve acknowledged will be a cauldron."
Schmidt also name-checked two of Connacht's best players of this season as reasons why they have been so successful - Tom McCartney and Bundee Aki. You can throw back-row Jake Heenan into that mix too.
Connacht will soon have a greater representation in the Irish squad - Matt Healy is expected to debut on tour - but, for now, we may have to settle for gradual change at a gradual pace.