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Schmidt says his squad are getting back to peak form

Jump for it: Ireland’s Iain Henderson and France’s Wenceslas Lauret (left)
Jump for it: Ireland’s Iain Henderson and France’s Wenceslas Lauret (left)
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

Both Joe Schmidt and Iain Henderson have warned that Ireland will need to step up once again if they are to derail Wales's Grand Slam charge in Cardiff.

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The side produced their best performance since beating New Zealand back in November against the French yesterday but will likely need to be better again if they are to spoil Warren Garland's Six Nations swansong.

Captain Rory Best, Johnny Sexton, Jack Conan and Keith Earls all crossed as Ireland suffocated the disorganised French at the Aviva Stadium.

Head coach Schmidt had conceded Ireland had slipped off the perch of their stellar 2018 in losing to England and labouring past Scotland and Italy - but believes yesterday's controlled victory plots the course back to top form.

Ireland will now attempt to derail Wales' Grand Slam charge in Saturday's Principality Stadium clash in Cardiff, with boss Schmidt relieved to see his men back on song.

Asked if the comprehensive France victory can prove a timely reminder of Ireland's World Cup aims, Schmidt said: "Probably. Again I know there's been some frustration externally, and it has been internal as well.

"We've been frustrated that we haven't been as cohesive as we would have liked, and that we started the championship on a really flat note.

"And one of the great reminders for us is you get nothing back in a Test match.

"You can't go and say 'ah well we missed that opportunity, can we go and play it again tomorrow?'

"You get one window and you can't just open it a little to let the breeze in, you've got to open it right up and get through it.

"So I think that's what we showed a little bit more of today. It will give confidence, but we know what a challenge next week's going to be anyway.

"We said all along this is a little bit similar to what we'll have to contend with at the end of the year anyway, with a six-day turnaround from a team in blue to a team in red.

"It's not something that we want to miss a beat with now. We want to keep building over these next six days if we can.

"And I'm sure the Welsh boys were sitting back with feet up watching and they will be very much primed for us next week."

Ireland pinned France into their own 22 for almost the entire first half in a stunning muscle-flexing turn, leaving their head coach suitably impressed.

"I don't think I've ever seen in the last six years a team control a 40 minutes like we did in that first half," said Schmidt.

"We kept that pressure on, and to keep that pressure on four that 40 minutes spoke volumes about the energy and the intensity we brought to our game.

"From where we were last time we sat in this room, it's taken a while but there was a bit of our rhythm back today.

"But in six days' time it becomes a whole different equation. Wales in Cardiff is always a complicated fixture for us."

Ulster lock Iain Henderson saluted a return to winning ways at the Aviva Stadium, where they were beaten by England last time out.

He said: "We had prepped a lot all week about what we thought the French would do and a lot of it came off for us, a few nicely worked tries and a bit of hard work for the boys.

"Being able to rectify a few things that happened against England in our last home performance, I think it was a massive incentive for the boys to put in a bit of extra effort during the week and it paid off."

Henderson admitted Ireland must deliver a wholehearted performance against Grand Slam chasing Wales in Cardiff next weekend.

He added: "There's always pressure playing international rugby. It's going to be a massive game for us next week.

"We've seen what Wales can do over the last number of weeks and I think that we'll have to put in an 80-minute performance, not a 50 or 60-minute performance."

Rob Kearney pulled out of yesterday clash at the last minute with a calf injury, but Schmidt expects the Leinster full-back to be fit to face Wales.

Robbie Henshaw is unlikely to recover from his dead leg in time however, leaving Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose the favourites to start in Cardiff.

"I think Rob Kearney will be a really good chance, he just had calf tightness yesterday," said Schmidt.

"Robbie Henshaw would be less of a chance. Robbie is recovering but it's slower than expected.

"That dead leg has just unfortunately lingered. It's a long, long time ago since I played but I had one. You just have to let it recover in its own time."

France captain Guilhem Guirado admitted Les Bleus paid the price for their poor first half showing.

He said: "Ireland kept hold of the ball so well in the first-half they didn't give us a chance to initiate anything."

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