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How Ireland's Six Nations risk can help fire World Cup challenge, explains Schmidt

Wales 25 Ireland 7

Low point: Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony and Jordan Larmour show their disappointment after the defeat to Wales
Low point: Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony and Jordan Larmour show their disappointment after the defeat to Wales
Alun Wyn Jones celebrates winning the Grand Slam
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

At the conclusion of a Six Nations campaign to forget, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt was left to hope it's been a case of short-term pain for long-term gain.

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Beaten out of the gate for the second time in this championship by Wales in the Principality Stadium on Saturday - there weren't yet two minutes on the clock when Hadleigh Parkes got the game's first try - Ireland were never in the contest and left Cardiff with no real positive to point to on a day it was easy to forget they'd once been overwhelming favourites for this title.

It won't have been easy for the Kiwi to sit in the coaching box and watch his side so utterly out-played by a opponents who take on Ireland's mantle of Grand Slam winners and second best side in the world with many, although not the man himself, debating whether the 25-7 thumping was the worst suffered on his watch.

The only true rival to that crown came when Schmidt was sat in the very same seat he occupied this weekend, the World Cup quarter-final defeat against Argentina in 2015.

It was then that he found his first XV ravaged by injury and suspension with the 36 players used over the past seven weeks a testament to the effort undergone to build increased depth for this year's upcoming global showpiece.

Whether heading to Japan having maintained the squad's winning momentum of 2018 would have been more beneficial won't be known for some seven months.

"There is a risk," Schmidt said in Cardiff. "And at the same time there is a responsibility to take a risk and we took a risk through the championship.

"We took risks putting different guys in and trying find out a little bit about guys.

"Tadhg (Beirne) for example hasn't played a lot at all and he got back and he played that one game.

"At the same time some of the risk was forced on us because we lost Iain Henderson last week, but we were pretty happy with some of the things Tadhg did and it allows us to build forward on the back of that.

"Earlier in the tournament we got to look at a number of players so if we didn't take that risk, and I don't think we did in 2015, people would be quick to point to 2015 when we lost five of our very best senior players that there wasn't much sympathy for not performing in the quarter-final.

"So I guess one of the things is that in trying to mitigate that, you have risk something somewhere else.

"At the same time, there is no way we wanted to come here and lose and we didn't want to lose at home to England either. So we are hurting, it is a hollow feeling when you lose a game like that and it is frustrating. But if, in hindsight, in November, we can say, 'well I am glad we did and I am glad we tried to build and widen and lay a foundation' then, we have three of the last five of these things (championships) and we got that Grand Slam last year."

While utilising a wider panel, plenty of the same names who delivered such success last year have been under-par this time around, including two genuine world-class operators in Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray.

They were again well below their imperious best in Cardiff and failed to control the game in the way they have so often in the past.

While the context of a contest already decided has to be taken into account, not for the first time in this championship Ireland's attack looked better once Schmidt turned to his bench and called for Jack Carty and Kieran Marmion. "We're trying to build those two guys forward," said the coach of his decision to stick with his under-performing play-makers for as long as he did.

"They haven't had a huge amount of game time so I think it's important to invest in people.

"That was part of the remit we decided we were going to prioritise in this Six Nations. Whether it bears fruit at the other end of this season, we'll see.

"But I don't get into prognostics, all I do is try to get into preparation. The best preparation for top-class players is to be in pressure-cooker situations and to work their way through them.

"If, every time that isn't going well, you take them off, I don't think you're growing them back to where they need to be. They've had so many days in the team where they've been the hub upon which the wheel has turned and the wheel has generally gone forward.

"Over the last two years, we've played 26 Tests and lost three of them. To lose is really tough but those two guys are not the reason we lost. Those two guys, we'll continue to invest in just as we have in Jack Carty and getting Kieran Marmion back - I thought he came on and did really well.

"John Cooney has acquitted himself well in the earlier part of the championship as well, so you just keep trying to grow people and keep trying to keep your confidence in them so they keep their confidence in themselves."

While Ireland have had one eye on it throughout, attention is now firmly squared on the World Cup and its opener against an unpredictable Scotland side on September 22 in Yokohama.

The questions raised by this championship will be asked again and again until then but Schmidt assured fans his side will "definitely" deliver in the Far East.

"I guess the narrative is set," he added. "We can only perform in those two 40-minute windows that we get and then the narrative will be whatever pundits or journalists put out there.

"We would encourage the genuine supporter not to lose faith. The team will definitely turn up in Japan.

"You only have to look back a year to see England win back-to-back championships and then end up fifth. We've fought our way back to third, we haven't been catastrophic but we haven't been as good as we needed to be."

WALES: L Williams; G North, J Davies, H Parkes, J Adams; G Anscombe, G Davies; R Evans, K Owens, T Francis: A Beard, A W Jones (capt); J Navidi, J Tipuric, R Moriarty.

REPLACEMENTS: E Dee (for K Owens, 61), N Smith (for Evans, 54), D Lewis (for Francis, 54) J Ball (for Beard, 71), A Wainwright (for Moriarty, 71), A Davies (for G Davies, 59), D Biggar (for North, 8) O Watkins (for Parkes, 71)

IRELAND: R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best (capt), T Furlong; T Beirne, J Ryan; P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, CJ Stander.

REPLACEMENTS: N Scannell (for Best, 65), D Kilcoyne (for Healy, 59), A Porter (for Furlong, 65), Q Roux (for Beirne, 59), J Conan (for O'Brien, 50), K Marmion (for Murray, 68), J Carty (for Sexton, 73) J Larmour (for Kearney, 65)

Referee: A Gardner (AUS)

Star Man: G Anscombe (WAL)


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