Ireland coach Joe Schmidt views Six Nations as ‘five finals’
Coach prepares for opener against Scotland with star centre Brian O’Driscoll set for his 129th cap
Joe Schmidt was preparing himself for "five finals" ahead of his first Six Nations game in charge of Ireland, against Scotland in Dublin on Sunday.
The New Zealand-born former Leinster boss was appointed as Declan Kidney's successor last year, and lost two of three November tests, going down 15-32 to Australia, before agonisingly losing 22-24 to the world champion All Blacks with the last kick of an epic game.
"I'm still learning in this job," Schmidt said at the squad's training base near Dublin.
"It [the Six Nations] is a competition of five games but it's five finals and that probably makes it slightly different to the autumn where we did feel maybe we had to have a look at a few guys.
"Whereas this is the Six Nations, this is the major tournament that we play and we can't afford to lose our first game.
"It's pivotal for us to get a good start. You only get one shot at your first game and you've got to give it your best shot."
Of the XV that started against New Zealand, Schmidt is without Tommy Bowe and Sean O'Brien through injury.
Much of the rest of the team picks itself, with star centre Brian O'Driscoll set for a landmark 129th cap that will see him overtake retired outside-half Ronan O'Gara as Ireland's most-capped player. This is also O'Driscoll's final season of rugby before retirement.
Scotland had an upset 12-8 win in last year's corresponding clash with the Irish at Murrayfield.
But Scotland coach Scott Johnson wants his side to expand their game.
And with the return of full-back Stuart Hogg, who missed the November tests with a wrist injury, in a back three also featuring New Zealand-born wing Sean Maitland and veteran flyer Sean Lamont, Johnson is convinced his side can pose a real attacking threat at Lansdowne Road.
"We can go the length with that back three," said Johnson.
"For a seasoned campaigner Sean Lamont has some legs still. His form over the last 24 months for us has been outstanding," the Australian added. "Like something in my wine cabinet he's certainly getting better with age."