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Six Nations: Joe Schmidt blasts George Hook after Jared Payne attack

Murrayfield beckons, but Cardiff lingers. The image of despairing Irish players with their hands in the air, waving furiously in-field where the forwards are not listening just won't go away.

The Championship is still there to be won, but the Grand Slam that disappeared in the Welsh capital still stings.

Joe Schmidt has been through that performance with a fine-tooth comb at this stage and found solace in the good that went with the bad.

However, the perception remains that a team with genuine World Cup ambitions like, say, the All Blacks would have taken the chance that went a-begging when Eoin Reddan and Jonny Sexton were sucked into a ruck and Paul O'Connell popped out and Cian Healy knocked on.

So, what was the message to the players standing out there, furiously signalling that they had been afforded the freedom of Cardiff?

"I said to them, you're not spectators. The people in the crowd wave their arms; we roll our sleeves up and we get involved," Schmidt said.

"While we want to keep width in our attack, we've got to make sure of opportunities to transfer that ball, not guys demanding that other people do it. I think some of the guys need to take responsibility to make sure that they are involved in helping make those transfers."

Schmidt has largely kept the same core together over the course of his time in charge, with the exception being in the midfield where the more than 200 combined caps of Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll have been replaced by the far less experienced Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne, who are five games into their partnership.

Former Ireland winger Shane Horgan has questioned whether there is enough leadership in the backline outside of Sexton and that point was put to Schmidt.

However, it was clear that he had been irked by the thoughts of another pundit and, while he didn't mention George Hook by name, he launched a withering dismissal of the RTE pundit's description of Payne as a "second-rate foreign player".

"You've got to give people responsibility and put them in a position where that leadership is demanded of them. We try to keep a balance, we've got great experience at No 9 and 10, even off the bench at No 9 and even Ian Madigan has spent a lot of time with us," he said of the leadership issue.

"Again, Jared doesn't have a lot of Test match experience but he has played a lot of Super Rugby and European rugby. That breadth of experience and his maturity help Robbie work away and then on the edges, Tommy (Bowe) is a very experienced player, as is Rob Kearney.

"Brian O'Driscoll doesn't leave a team and suddenly there's no deficit, the guys who have come in in his place have done a super job, but they can't do the same job, they're doing the job with a different experience and a different knowledge.

"I'm not a patient man, I'm not going to say that we're being patient about it but we have to be tolerant of the development that needs to take place.

"I was incredibly disappointed with one of the so-called pundits slating one of our midfield last weekend when I thought he'd played a good game. He made a couple of line breaks and was dead solid defensively.

"That sort of thing, when we're trying to build confidence in players, filters back and I don't think it helps. I don't think it's accurate, it's one of those unfortunate by-products of having people for entertainment value as opposed to people who are a little bit more in-depth in their analysis."

Simon Zebo was the only back not to be afforded a second chance. Schmidt said he made the decision to make two changes (Jack McGrath is the other missing out) after Tuesday's training session which he described as "as flat as it's been" during the campaign and heightened need for freshness.

So, Luke Fitzgerald and Cian Healy come into a side who play the middle of the three games on the final day. They will keep an eye on Rome, where Wales play Italy needing 21 points to get ahead of Ireland and 25 to top England, before turning their attention to Twickenham as England tackle France after Ireland's clash with Scotland.

Belfast Telegraph

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