DUBLIN, Ireland, Nov 26 – The Six Nations tournament next year will not be used for experimenting with fresh faces ahead of the 2019 World Cup, said Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt.
The 52-year-old — speaking after the Irish had wound up a perfect three wins in three November Tests with a pretty conclusive 28-19 win over Argentina — added the Six Nations deserves the utmost respect and is a far more historic tournament than the World Cup.
Schmidt, who has used 36 players in the three Tests, guided the Irish to the 2015 World Cup quarter-finals where they were overwhelmed by a vibrant Argentina team.
However, he was adamant the Six Nations — a title he has won twice as Ireland coach — would be treated with the respect it deserves.
“I think it is a phenomenal tournament and I have the utmost respect for it,” he said.
“It is our (northern hemisphere) tournament and has more history than the World Cup which is Jonny come lately.
“The Six Nations is such a tough title to get. We saw some of the Six Nations today like Scotland (who thrashed 14-man Australia) and they are in our pool in 2019 they are taking off.
“England are really tough too. In the Six Nations you are obliged to go as hard as you can because you still need your top selection as they need to build their fluidity and confidence.”
Schmidt, whose side extended their winning run to seven Tests, admitted he had taken some chances with selection in November which still saw them romp to a record 38-3 victory over South Africa and then a second string side edge Fiji 23-20.
“We took some risks this autumn and I would love to say some were deliberate but some were down to chance.
“One this evening was with (centre) Chris Farrell and he was really super.
“Robbie Henshaw would have played if he had been fit but that’s what happens.
“In Six Nations it’s organic you have to make changes in the weeks leading up to matches.
“I wouldn’t say 36 players will get a look in like now.”
– ‘Never give an inch’ –
Schmidt, who summed up the win over Argentina as a “mixed bag” of a performance, said he is anticipating a really tough Six Nations with Ireland’s first game in Paris against France on February 3.
“I think the Six Nations gets more difficult every year. I thought 2014 was nice and easy when we won by a five point differential!” said Schmidt with a wry smile.
“That was how tough it was to get your nose in front.
“We have to go to France first up so no matter what happens tonight (France were held 23-23 by Japan having lost their previous two Tests) they are always very combative and never give an inch.
“We lost there last time with a poor second half performance so there is a bit of motivation.
“Teams have a few cards up their sleeves for instance the Scots are missing a lot of their forward pack.”
Schmidt, whose two centres and two wings had just five caps between them, took pleasure out of the performance of 21-year-old wing Jacob Stockdale who scored two tries, the second especially eye catching.
“He is a kid who is learning fast and he is willing to learn,” said Schmidt.
“He has some great athleticism as he showed in finishing the second try really well.
“However, a couple of times he was hesitant defensively and winning aerial battles was tough for him.”
His Argentine counterpart Daniel Hourcade ends the year with just two Test wins — against Georgia and Six Nations whipping boys Italy — but he was proud of the way his players didn’t hold their hands up when they were 20-0 down.
Indeed especially so as he said they were fuelled with emotion over the 44 crew members from the Argentine submarine San Juan which has been missing for 10 days.
“For us it was a very important way of supporting the families really hard moment they are experiencing the passion the players showed it was part of that emotion.”