Desperate Irish have to win says Schmidt
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Coach Joe Schmidt says Ireland must beat France at Dublin's Lansdowne Road on Saturday to keep alive their hopes of winning the Six Nations.
Both Ireland, bidding for a third Championship in four years, and France have won one and lost one of their opening two matches, with Schmidt accepting defeat on Saturday would effectively end their title challenge.
"We're desperately keen to stay alive," said the New Zealander, who guided Ireland to successive Six Nations titles in 2014 and 2015.
Only England have won their opening two fixtures and face whipping boys Italy on Sunday, while Wales travel to Scotland on Saturday in another clash where only the victors will remain in contention.
"England have taken a flier," added Schmidt.
"Mathematically there is no other way of looking at it. By Saturday evening there will be two teams hanging in there and two who will be scrambling for the minor placings,"
Schmidt, who guided the Irish to a historic series of Test wins over the southern hemisphere's 'big three' of the All Blacks, Australia and South Africa last year, is looking to standout flyhalf Johnny Sexton to provide the spark for an Irish win and avenge a controversial 9-10 loss to France last year.
"I think he's a great orchestrator of play," said Schmidt.
"I think he navigates us around the pitch really well and I think he sees things very much earlier, and that allows other players to get into good positions.
"He brings other players into the game well because his experience is such that his option-taking is often very good and he varies play well for us,"
Schmidt recalled Sexton - one of three changes to the starting XV that thrashed Italy 63-10 a fortnight ago - despite the increasingly fragile 31-year-old not having played for five weeks because of a calf injury.
Schmidt, though, says Sexton's ability to slot straight back in again, as he did two years ago in kicking five penalties in an 18-11 win over the French after being out for three months, led to his recall instead of Paddy Jackson, who did little wrong in the first two games.
"You base it on the past and if they have come back and played well then they are more likely to replicate it in the future," said Schmidt.
Ireland captain Rory Best - who likewise has no worries about Sexton's fitness or ability to slot back in - believes the Irish need to raise their game even higher than their historic 40-29 victory over New Zealand in the United States last year.
"We know we have to produce a performance that I believe has to exceed the one we produced in Chicago," said the 34-year-old hooker.
Schmidt has been impressed by what he has seen of France, only edged out 19-16 by England in the first round, and hopes they don't click against his side.
" France head coach Guy [Noves] seems to have the right mix and the right players," said Schmidt. "He is putting the foundations in place and I hope they don't come to fruition on Saturday."