JOE SCHMIDT is a famously anxious type of coach. He is not the sort of character who will leave anything to chance, and coming up against a young pretender who thrives on generating organised chaos is his idea of hell.
So, while there was clearly a genuine respect for Gregor Townsend evident when the New Zealander – who is standing down from the Ireland job after this World Cup – spoke about his opposite number at today’s team announcement ahead of Sunday’s World Cup opener in Yokohama, there was also a clear sense of dread there at what might lie in store if his team let Scotland control the pattern and tempo of the game.
“Do you want the full list?” Schmidt retorted, when asked what was concerning him most ahead of Sunday’s showdown. “They’re so competitive everywhere.
“We know the breakdown is going to be hotly contested. There’s going to be some challenges for Wayne Barnes there for sure. Because both teams are so competitive at the breakdown, that’s going to be a real starting place for both teams to put pressure on, especially when you’ve got the likes of Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson and John Barclay in their back row.
“Obviously, their back three – which is high=speed and very, very talented – I think there is great strength there. And getting Duncan Taylor back is a bit of a boon for them because he’s got great experience playing for Saracens in top European matches. Sam Johnson has been very good for them since breaking into the team.
“Their front row is very effective over the ball. Both hookers – Stuart McInally and Fraser Brown – are converted back-rowers and they put lots of pressure on the ball. So, those elements are always a bit of a concern.
“And Gregor concerns me because he’s a very astute man,” Schmidt added. “He will set up a couple of things we haven’t seen before, along with Danny Wilson in the coaching strategy they’ve put together.
“So, across the board, there is plenty we will be actively concerned about, that we will be trying to proactively solve once we get out on the pitch, and hopefully we can cause a few headaches to them as well.”