Letter from Edinburgh: Schmidt looking for clarity in Murrayfield

Murray Kinsella reports from Edinburgh

THE SUN WAS out yesterday at Carton House and Joe Schmidt was in no humour to have the light mood broken.

Why has Simon Zebo been left out? No, no, it’s just the wear and tear of Test rugby.

Will Schmidt’s intimate knowledge of Vern Cotter colour this clash with Scotland? No, no way, I owe VC a fair bit.

Schmidt was in positive form at Carton House yesterday. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

All positive, all looking forward, all building towards as clinical a performance as possible on Saturday afternoon.

One gets the sense that Schmidt looks forward to the conclusion of the Six Nations not only because it might mean a second title in two attempts, but also because his media duties will almost totally disappear for a few months.

Ready yourself for the World Cup onslaught, Joe.

After their own media obligations, Ireland’s players prepared themselves for the trip to Edinburgh out in the lobby, where little Luca Sexton was the star of the show. Schmidt will be hoping that Sexton senior is similarly warmly received after a standout performance in Murrayfield tomorrow.

Onwards to Scotland they and we went, though it seems the bulk of the travelling Irish take to the skies today.

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All was calm around the Grassmarket yesterday evening, while Finnegan’s Wake up on Victoria Street lived up to its name for once, although these things are relative. That serenity certainly won’t be the case later this evening and into the wee hours of Saturday.

We dropped into a randomly-selected spot for sustenance and of course the waitress was a native of Kilkenny. A band of her fellow Cats are part of the wagon destined for ‘Auld Reekie’ tomorrow.

We’re told that strange nickname comes from Edinburgh’s smoky industrial history and the number of chimneys in the city, but Schmidt will be intent on ensuring his key men have utterly clear vision in their approach this weekend.

A sold-out Murrayfield awaits Ireland this weekend. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

A repeat of the moribund opening 14 minutes in Cardiff simply cannot be afforded this time around, but if Ireland do start well they can do the business.

One has to think England are in the favourable position, given that they will know precisely what they need to do to claim their first title since 2011 later tomorrow, although does a degree of pressure come with that position too?

Ireland’s clarity must arrive in the form of accurate passing and catching skills, nailed lineout throws, intelligent calling at the set-piece, balanced drives at scrum time, perfectly-executed power plays, creative sparks in phase play and concise communication.

Not too much too ask; Schmidt’s demands are notorious.

There is something of a reduced feeling about the weekend, given that the Grand Slam dream slipped away in Cardiff, though anyone who was in Paris last year will tell you that a championship success is still sweet to witness and toast.

The oddness of a trophy presentation in the deserted cavern of Murrayfield tomorrow evening may await, even if such thoughts are dangerously getting ahead of the facts. Wales, Italy, France, Scotland and England all have starring roles to play in a day that’s not just about Ireland.

Schmidt’s men, as ever, will be concentrating on the things they can directly affect themselves.

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