Joe Schmidt has admitted Ireland have only a “very, very outside chance” of now retaining their RBS 6 Nations title.
Ireland lost out 10-9 in France on Saturday, Maxime Medard’s late try denying the visitors back-to-back wins in Paris for the first time in 89 years.
Head coach Schmidt has now conceded that Ireland will struggle to secure an unprecedented third-consecutive Six Nations crown, with defeat to France following the 16-16 draw with Wales.
Schmidt battled to insist that Ireland will focus simply on preparing to take on England at Twickenham on Saturday, February 27, knowing full well however just how tough such single-mindedness will be.
“There’s no hiding our disappointment that while mathematically there’s an outside chance, realistically we know that it is a very, very outside chance,” said Schmidt.
“To be honest, we are a week-to-week team. The titles that we have won in the last two years have never been discussion points. The next game has been the discussion point.
“For us it is about building towards Twickenham and putting together the best performance that we can.
“The first thing is to get the medical assessment and put together the players that we have that are fit and ready to go.”
France’s risky strategy of sending potent scrummagers Rabah Slimani and Eddy Ben Arous into action off the bench proved successful, Medard’s winning try the fruit of four scrums on Ireland’s five-metre line.
Ireland boss Schmidt branded the refereeing of the second-half set-piece “incredibly frustrating” however, claiming France were gaining an illegal edge by driving at outlawed angles without punishment.
Nonetheless Ireland failed to neuter France’s revamped set-piece and paid the ultimate price. Ireland will hope Cian Healy and Mike Ross are ready for the England clash on Saturday week, after returning from injury for Leinster on Friday night.
Healy is back after knee surgery while Ross has beaten a hamstring complaint. Dave Kearney is likely to miss the rest of the tournament with damage to the AC joint in his shoulder, while Sean O’Brien has a new hamstring problem and Mike McCarthy concussion.
Having already nudged the citing commissioners towards reviewing Yoann Maestri’s shoulder-charge on Johnny Sexton and Guilhem Guirado’s high hit on Dave Kearney, Schmidt turned his attention to frustrations with referee Jaco Peyper’s officiating at the scrum.
“I would say that were we to have a close look back at the scrums when Rabah Slimani and Eddy Ben Arous came on, the square scrum went out of the window and all sorts of angles came into play,” said Schmidt.
“It is incredibly frustrating. It makes it very difficult to scrum against a team like that. If the only solution being offered is stability what does that mean if those things are not being watched for?
“It just made it very difficult. The major frustration was the scrum we had just out from their line that was slowly turning.
“I think we stayed as straight as we could and unfortunately conceded a penalty.
“There were those frustrations and when that happens and you have got a bit of inexperience in the tight five around Rory (Best) it is hard for him to get solutions if those things are permitted.
“I have not got my head around what we will be looking to do against England. We will use the next couple of days to assess who we have got who is fully fit.
“I think it’s unlikely Sean O’Brien or Dave Kearney will be available. That’s a disappointment.
“Mike McCarthy we will have to wait and see. It doesn’t help when the list is already pretty substantial.
“Mike Ross and Cian Healy have never been far from the mix but you just don’t bring people into Test rugby if they are not fully fit or close to it.”