Schmidt won his first Six Nations as Ireland coach in 2014
Joe Schmidt is gearing Ireland up for their toughest Six Nations yet.
Ireland completed a clean sweep of November victories with Saturday’s 28-19 win over Argentina in Dublin.
Jacob Stockdale’s two-try brace and a score for CJ Stander saw Ireland home, with the Pumas’ three-try flurry too little, too late.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) November 25, 2017
Head coach Schmidt’s men racked up a record 38-3 win over South Africa earlier this month before an experimental line-up edged past Fiji 23-20 last weekend.
Ireland have blooded youngsters while still pulling off results this autumn, but Schmidt admitted the Six Nations will be an entirely different beast.
“I think they’ve got more difficult every year,” he said of the competition.
“I thought that 2014 was nice and easy, we won the title comfortably by a five-point differential. That’s how tough it is to get your nose in front.
“We’ve got to go to France first up. I know what they are going to be like – incredibly combative.
“There’s plenty of motivation, and again I think it is going to be really tough. There’s a few teams to get players back as well.
“England have nursed players through their autumn. A couple of their big-name Lions haven’t played that much.
“So there’s still a few cards up their sleeves, and the same for Scotland.”
He continued: “I think the Six Nations is a phenomenal tournament, and I would pay the utmost respect to that competition.
“The World Cup is really Johnny-come-lately in regard to that. The Six Nations is our tournament.
“There’s teams in the Six Nations that you’re obliged to go as hard as you can, because you still need your top selection, to keep building their fluidity together.
“And you need to keep building confidence. We took some risks in this autumn, I know. I’d like to say all were calculated, but some were perchance.”
Stockdale and Munster centre Chris Farrell have proved their Test class in another hectic autumn for Ireland as taskmaster boss Schmidt looks to build depth towards the 2019 World Cup.
The former Leinster head coach insists, however, that it would be difficult to gauge whether Ireland sit in a stronger position now than after his first autumn schedule, back in 2013.
“It’s tough to compare,” he said. “I think 2013 I was learning probably more than the players.
“I was trying to work out the differences between Test match rugby and provincial rugby, and those very small windows you get to work with players to develop them.
“I was a bit dazed and confused, I felt a bit punch drunk at the end of that first November series.
“I’m not saying I feel that different now. One of the best things about this group is I feel the experienced players helping the younger players through.
“You want people feeding off each other, a bit of youth and athleticism.”
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