Schmidt and Nacewa have impact in Ireland

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    17 Dec 2017     Getty Images

After a weekend in which teams from Ireland won all their games in the European contests for the Champions Cup, Irish journalist Alan Quinlan noted in the Irish Independent, "The Ireland head coach may not be directly working with the players in the lead-up to these European fixtures like lieutenant Andy Farrell, but the influence of Schmidt's core rugby principles was obvious across all four victories."

Schmidt was renowned for being meticulous but instructions he gave to players were simplistic and concentrated on accuracy and building pressure whether sides had the ball or not.

"Solid foundations are important in every walk of life and rugby is no different – so having a reliable set-piece, being efficient in the ruck, and forcing more turnovers than you concede will always put you in a good position to get a positive result.

"All four provinces excelled in those areas last weekend," Quinlan said.

Not forgetting that provincial coaches also had their role to play, he said the culture Schmidt was building when dealing with the top players, and the demands he was placing on them, were clearly trickling down to every corner of the country.

"It's bound to happen when so many of the provincial players have worked under Schmidt at some point.

"Most of Ireland's biggest victories under Schmidt have been based on winning the collision areas, being ruthless at the breakdown and starving the opposition of possession by holding on to the ball for multiple phases, and that is a template that the provinces are largely working under, which is a major positive just seven weeks out from the Six Nations," he said.

"Joe Schmidt's measured nature ensures he won't be getting ahead of himself, but the culture and template he has built for Irish rugby is helping our provinces get ahead in Europe once again," Quinlan said.

It was another New Zealand player, Isa Nacewa, who played a key role in the latest Champions Cup game for Leinster on Saturday.

Leinster lost first five-eighths Jonny Sexton to a head injury and his replacement Ross Byrne to a neck injury.

But 35-year-old Nacewa, who started at second five-eighths and was captaining the side, moved into first-five, stepped into the side's goal-kicking breach and landed six goals from six attempts as Leinster claimed a 22-17 win over Exeter to win all four of their Cup pool games for the first time in 12 years.

Leinster had been down 3-17 before Nacewa set about his task.

Coach Leo Cullen said of the man-of-the-match performance by the former Blues player, "Isa is a remarkable individual. He retired from the game five years ago! It's pretty incredible to come in, lead the team and kick the goals.

"He's stepped up, kicked the goals, led the team. He's pretty much doing it all. Off the back of the six-day turnaround and he's had [ankle] surgery not long ago. Incredible."

Team-mate Garry Ringrose said, "It was brilliant for us that Isa showed such composure. When you've guys like Isa amongst the team leading us, he raises that intensity. I find myself incredibly lucky to be on teams with somebody like Isa. The intensity he brings, as well as a relaxed calmness he brings, when times are tough."