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Six Nations: Wary Schmidt urging Ireland to hit ground running

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ireland cannot let another start pass them by in Cardiff tomorrow night, according to head coach Joe Schmidt. A sluggish opening cost them dear in Murrayfield and landed them in trouble against France, and the New Zealander fears that a failure to come out of the blocks against Wales could prove disastrous.

In the corresponding fixture two years ago, Schmidt's side found themselves 12-0 down after 14 minutes at the Millennium Stadium and ultimately lost.

With Rob Howley's unchanged side's backs to the wall and an 8.05pm kick-off set to turn up the Cardiff heat, the Ireland supremo wants to hit the ground running.

"Emotionally our players will be up, they have to be - you can't miss a beat because the margins are so fine," he said.

"We have already been stung once by going in a little bit under-cooked and not being at the same heightened level our opponents were. So I would hope that we would be as ready as Wales are.

"I have no doubt Wales, particularly having lost their last two games, will be highly motivated, and we have to match that."

Part of the reason Ireland fell so far behind in 2015 was the role played by Wayne Barnes, who whistled Schmidt's side off the park in the opening quarter.

In the aftermath of the game, the Ireland coach fumed about his decisions around a pivotal late scrum, while Sean O'Brien openly questioned his communication skills.

The English official is back in charge for tomorrow night's game, adding another layer of concern. Schmidt, though, says he is happy with the appointment.

"It's nice to have one of the better referees," he said. "Last time there were frustrations because there was zero tolerance around falling on the wrong side of the tackle in the first 20 minutes.

"That ebbed away and I understand why because it would have been 13-a-side by the end of the game. I haven't had any conversations with Wayne."

Ireland will wait until they have a better picture of the weather before making a call on whether the Millennium Stadium roof will be left open or closed tomorrow. If the forecast is good, it is likely that they will opt for it to remain open.

After missing out on selection, Jared Payne will be released to Ulster, who host Zebre on Saturday. Payne's absence means Garry Ringrose will continue in the No.13 shirt, although judging by the effusive praise Schmidt heaped on the 22-year-old, he may have held on to his place regardless.

"Robbie (Henshaw) and Garry have a really good relationship and we're building on that. So sometimes selection might be swayed because of the cohesion of the current combination," he said.

"Garry played really well against the French. We want him to continue to grow."

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