Six Nations 2019: Ireland will show up in Japan - Schmidt

Ireland boss Joe Schmidt is confident his team can recapture their best form in time for the World Cup in Japan.

The 2018 Six Nations champions surrendered their title to Wales in underwhelming fashion.

The below-par display was the final act of a campaign that began with a loss to England and also featured disappointing showings against Scotland and Italy.

"We would certainly encourage the genuine supporter not to lose faith," said Schmidt.

"The team will definitely turn up in Japan and we'll grow a bit from this. You only have to look back a year and see that England went back-to-back in the championship [in 2016 and 2017] and then ended up fifth.

"We fought our way up to third, we're in the top half of the championship and we haven't been catastrophic, but we haven't been as good as we needed to be and today was probably an example of that."

The 2019 World Cup takes place in Japan from 20 September to 2 November.

Sexton and Murray still Ireland's 'hub'

Schmidt revealed that some Irish players spent part of the week in isolation after they were hit by a stomach bug, which disrupted their preparations during a six-day turnaround before the match in Cardiff, but conceded that his team had been out-played by a Welsh side that were buoyed by their hunt for a Grand Slam title.

The New Zealander was also moved to defend his star half-back pairing of Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray as both players struggled to have an impact in the difficult conditions.

Sexton, the World Rugby Player of the Year, and scrum-half Murray were both replaced in the final 10 minutes.

Johnny Sexton reacts to a a decision against Ireland
Fly-half Johnny Sexton endured another frustrating game for Ireland

"Those two guys are not the reason we lost and those two guys we'll continue to invest in," Schmidt declared.

"We're trying to build those two guys forward. They haven't a huge amount of game time so I think it is important to invest in people and I think that was part of the remit we decided we were going to prioritise in this Six Nations. Whether it bears fruit at the other end of this season, we'll see.

"All I do is try to get the preparation right and the best preparation for top-class players is to be in pressure cooker situations and to try and work their way through them.

"If every time that isn't going well and you take them off then I don't think you're growing them back to where they need to be. They've had so many days in the team when they've been the hub upon which the wheel has turned and the wheel has generally gone forward."

No Irish fairytales in Cardiff

The final round defeat meant there was no fairytale ending for Schmidt or team captain Rory Best, who are both set to step down after the World Cup later this year.

Best, who was hoping to emulate Paul O'Connell by winning back-to-back Six Nations as Ireland captain, is aiming to end his distinguished Test career by leading his side beyond the last eight at a World Cup for the first time.

"Knowing that it was my last Six Nations game, you want it to be a fairytale and you want to win and to win in such a place like this would have been massive for the team but would have involved us having a massive performance," said Best.

"We have a couple of big areas of the game that we really pride ourselves on and that get us into the game and that's usually our set-piece, because of our launch off that, and our discipline and both of those let us down today.

"Obviously, with the conditions being what they were, to go 10-0 behind so quickly was incredibly frustrating and it just puts pressure on you and pressure can do very strange things to you and we probably had to force it a little bit."

Ireland will play two World Cup warm-up matches against Wales as part of their tournament preparations, which will also feature matches against Italy and England.

As he begins preparations for his team's opening pool match against Scotland on 22 September, Schmidt still believes he can end his six-year spell in charge of Ireland on a positive note.

"We've won 23 of our last 26 Test matches, we've finished third in the Six Nations and once upon a time that wasn't the catastrophe that it is today for Ireland," added the head coach.

"The fact that we've won three of the previous five [championships] makes it less than it should be and we'll be the first to put our hands up and say that's not as good as we want to be.

"We'll be first to take our hats off the acknowledge the performance that Wales put in today and then we'll reflect, rebuild and go forward."

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