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Ireland's hat-trick bid now all but over: Schmidt

By Jonathan Bradley

In the wake of Saturday's defeat to France, Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has admitted that the chances of an historic third Six Nations title in a row are now nothing more than remote.

Mathematically, the 2014 and '15 winners could still secure the championship with three wins in their final three games if other results go their way but Schmidt knows that the odds are lengthening for his men.

"There's no hiding our disappointment," said Schmidt after his side wasted a 9-3 lead to lose 10-9.

"Mathematically, there's an outside chance but realistically we know it's a very, very outside chance.

"For us, we will be building towards Twickenham and trying to put together the best performance we can.

"The first thing is to get the medical assessment and put together the players we have fit and ready to go."

The game turned on the introduction of French props Eddy Ben Arous and Rabah Slimani five minutes after half-time, the hosts winning the scrum battle from there on, but Schmidt was unhappy with the technique employed by Guy Noves' pack.

"They really won the game on the back of the scrum, but the risk for them is if it's more closely looked at, it might not deliver the result the next time," continued Schmidt.

"When Rabah Slimani and Eddy Ben Arous came on the pitch, the square scrums went out the window and all sorts of angles then came into play.

"That's incredibly frustrating and it makes it very difficult to scrum against a team like that. If the only solution that's being offered is stability what does that mean if those things aren't being watched for? It just made it very difficult.

"So there were those frustrations and when that happens and you have a bit of inexperience in the tight five around Rory Best, it's hard for him to get solutions if those things are permitted."

Ireland have a two-week break until they face England at Twickenham with the Paris defeat seeing Sean O'Brien and Dave Kearney added to an already lengthy injury list.

Schmidt acknowledged he may be forced to bring in new faces for the trip on February 27.

"It's one of those things that's still a wee way off for us," he added.

"I still hadn't really got my head around too much of what we'll be looking to do against England.

"We'll use the next couple of days to assess who we've got fully fit. I think it's unlikely Sean O'Brien or Dave Kearney will be available.

"That's a disappointment. Mike McCarthy, we'll have to wait and see.

"It probably doesn't help when the list (of injuries) is already quite substantial.

"The one thing I wouldn't fault the players for is their attitude and effort.

"We've just got to keep trying and if it does mean new guys coming in, they'll commit to the same attitude and effort."

Belfast Telegraph

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