The mind games have started and the pre-match psychological warfare is in full swing but Joe Schmidt, as ever, appears entirely unperturbed.
England defence coach John Mitchell attempted to ruffle Irish feathers this week by calling Schmidt’s team boring and Eddie Jones suggested fly-half Johnny Sexton has a Bat Phone [or a direct line for the non-comic-book savvy] to referees.
You can’t fault the England coaching team’s attempts to get under the Irish skin but after naming his 23 to face the Red Rose at the Aviva Stadium in Round 1 of the Guinness Six Nations this Saturday, Schmidt simply laughed off his adversary’s comments.
Schmidt, ever the gentleman, opted for the high ground and could hardly have been more complimentary about the opportunity to catch up with Mitchell in person in Dublin.
At the very least, the New Zealander certainly didn’t seem like a man affected by the verbal barrage heading across the Irish Sea.
“I heard the boring comment, I heard the Bat Phone comment,” Schmidt said at his post-team announcement press conference.
“It doesn’t distract me because it’s not immediately relevant to what we’re doing.
“I’ve known Mitch for a long time. It will be good to catch up with him and then the banter can be face-to-face if there’s something that needs to be said, it will be said, and it will be said with a light-hearted repartee.
“I don’t think for a minute the game will be boring. It will be exhilarating and edge of the seat. I don’t think there will be a huge amount between the teams. People are going to be entertained.
“People have different approaches. It’s incredibly important to respect your opponents and to acknowledge what abilities they bring.
“And in the Aviva, the entertainment is partially provided by those outside the pitch.
“We know we’ll have a big crowd who will be supportive and respectful of our team and our opponents.”
The verbal barrage has been withstood but predictions about the match itself – a reverse of the Grand Slam-clinching clash at Twickenham in Round 5 of last year’s Championship – centre around the barrage of high balls expected to be launched at both sides’ back-threes.
That’s why it was seen as something of a surprise when Schmidt named Robbie Henshaw at full-back – the Leinster man’s first international appearance in a No.15 jersey since his Irish debut against USA back in June 2013.
The impressive centre pairing of Garry Ringrose and Bundee Aki are retained following their stunning autumn but fit-again Henshaw is a hard man to leave out, meaning Jordan Larmour is on the bench and stalwart full-back Rob Kearney is deemed not yet quite fit enough to make the 23.
So, while the outside world may have been surprised, Schmidt claims his decision over the No.15 shirt wasn’t a complete bolt from the blue.
“Robbie trained last week and a bit in November at full-back,” said Schmidt. “He actually trained there a bit in Australia in the summer too. It’s been an option for us for quite some time.
“Rob (Kearney) ran out of time a little bit. And we like the flexibility of Jordan Larmour on the bench covering a number of positions.
“It’s one of those things that we’ve seen as an option for quite some time. So it’s probably not as much of a surprise to Robbie or the team as it is to other people.”
As he enters his final Guinness Six Nations as Ireland coach, a hallmark of Schmidt’s tenure has been the diligence of his preparation and intricate knowledge of every facet of the opposition’s game.
This weekend is no different and he was happy to break down Eddie Jones’ selection – pointing to the hunger of England’s young players and the potential impact of their bench players as keys heading into Saturday’s titanic clash.
“George Kruis is there [at lock] because he a real intellect at the lineout,” explained Schmidt. “For Courtney Lawes to be forced to the bench that’s a big vote of confidence for George Kruis.
“Mark Wilson [at flanker] went really well for them in November so there’s no surprise there. Tom Curry [flanker] has gone really well, he’s a young kid but we’ve had some young kids come in in the last Championship and do really well.
“When those young players get that vote of confidence they often respond and repay it.
“In the last quarter, an absolute class out-half in George Ford is likely to come in and maybe they’ll push Owen [Farrell] out and start to expand their game a little bit.
“It allows them to play in whatever manner they chose. We’ve going to have to be up for that challenge.
“From one to 23 they’ve got a very strong squad.”