Thursday, 23 January 2014 | MYT 2:27 AM

Schmidt out to change Irish fortunes in first Six Nations

LONDON (Reuters) - Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will go into his first Six Nations with the aim of restoring faith in the Irish side beaten by Italy last season as they managed only one win to finish second-last.

Schmidt replaced Declan Kidney as head coach after the tournament which Ireland had begun with their only victory against eventual champions Wales.

"If we manage to win an away game against England or France, I think that will put us in the mix," Schmidt told reporters at the Six Nations championship launch on Wednesday.

"It will certainly give us a chance of being in the top two and I think that would be a fantastic achievement from where we have come."

Schmidt got his international management career off to a promising start with a 40-9 win over Samoa in the November 'autumn' internationals, but defeats against Australia and New Zealand followed.

However, the 48-year-old former Leinster coach could take solace from the defeat against the All Blacks, as New Zealand were indebted to Aaron Cruden's injury-time conversion to pinch a 24-22 victory.

Ireland led 19-0 at halftime, but New Zealand were rampant in the second period as Ryan Crotty's try set up the victory and meant the All Blacks won all their matches in 2013.

"It was a little bit surreal the way it had to happen," New Zealander Schmidt said. "There's not too much we can do about it now.

"What we have got to do now is try to maximise any confidence and any good things we can get out of it.

"It was a nightmare. It's my first year doing a national team so normally you would have a game the following week and you can get rid of it and look ahead."

Having been re-appointed captain after missing last year's tournament with a back injury, lock Paul O'Connell believes his side's experience will be crucial to their chances of success.

"I think you can end up captaining squads through different periods," the 34-year-old told reporters.

"Sometimes it can be very tough when you are captaining an inexperienced squad and there isn't a lot of leadership coming through from the young guys who are just trying to break into the team.

"But I think the Irish set-up at the moment is very different to that," O'Connell, who has 88 caps, added.

"There's an excellent coaching staff as well and we are very well looked after, very well managed.

"It is a good time to be captaining the Irish squad because that experience is all around you, which makes the job a lot easier."

(Editing by Rex Gowar)


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