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Six Nations: The best of Ireland is yet to come, says Joe Schmidt after Wales draw

By Jonathan Bradley

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt and his new captain Rory Best were in agreement — their side will need to improve on yesterday’s 16-16 draw with Wales if they are to go on and claim a historic third Six Nations title in succession.

With Ulster’s Best leading the injury-hit side for the first time since taking over from Paul O’Connell, Ireland raced into 13-point lead thanks to a try from Conor Murray and the boot of Johnny Sexton but it took a late penalty from the Leinster out-half to rescue a draw after Wales had come roaring back.

With a trip to France next up on Saturday and a visit to Twickenham in their third game, an encouraged Schmidt said his side would still need to step up a gear if they are to take the crown once again.

“There were some encouraging things, but the feeling in the dressing- room afterwards was a little bit deflated. We have to improve further

and that’s going to be a challenge because I did think that we performed really well here. There’s a hint of positivity there, now let’s consolidate that,” Schmidt said.

Rory Best conceded: “We’re probably happy with the draw. We let them back in when we had a good firm hold of things. But a draw keeps us in the championship and it’s a lot better than a loss.”

Both Schmidt and Best will be wary that France, now under the guidance of Guy Noves, will be a different proposition to the team so abject in the World Cup. They only sneaked a win against Italy on Saturday but the Ireland head coach is impressed with the new cast of characters the former Toulouse boss has brought in.

Schmidt said of the upcoming French test: "I think like anything, going into the unknown is a little bit daunting and seeing some of the athletes they have with the new guys in there.

"I've had a look at (Jonathan) Danty a fair bit and I think he's very complete.

"His passing game is very good, his ability to get onto the ball on the ground defensively is incredibly good but he also gives you that sheer ability to win gain line and step and accelerate that they will be looking for.

"They might have Wes Fofana back in there as well out wide.

"Hugo Bonneval, I don't know whether you've watched too much of the Top 14, but he's scored some scorching tries.

"I think his chip and chase against Toulouse was as good as anything I've seen this year, and Maxime Medard, his running threat from the back is such that we have to be well connected when we get forward to try to put pressure on him.

"Young (Yacouba) Camara when he came on, is a heck of an athlete as well, carrying the ball, as well as Chouly who scored the try in the corner.

"Chouly, it's similar too something he's done before against us but thankfully off a forward passes.

"That was one of the skinny margins that fell our way.

"It didn't look great for (Louis) Picamoles to be honest but Wenceslas Lauret looked hugely combative, a little bit like CJ (Stander), so that could be a good match-up next week."

Keith Earls suffered a suspected concussion yesterday and could miss the clash against France.

The Munster flyer must now go through the return to play protocols to prove his fitness for Ireland's Stade de France match in Paris on Saturday.

Schmidt added: "I think Keith has probably suffered a concussion.

"He will be considered to have had a concussive impact and that will certainly put him in doubt for next weekend."

Schmidt expects to have full-back Rob Kearney and Sean O'Brien available for selection next weekend.

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