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Dublin: 5 °C Wednesday 18 September, 2019
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'I didn't mention the injuries once' - Schmidt proud of Ireland's intelligence

The Kiwi head coach was enthused by the excellence of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton in the halfbacks.

Johnny Sexton and Paul O'Connell celebrate Tommy Bowe's try.
Johnny Sexton and Paul O'Connell celebrate Tommy Bowe's try.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

JOE SCHMIDT USED the word ‘intelligence’ throughout his post-match press conference at the Aviva Stadium, pushing credit onto his players for their show of mental skill and strong decision-making in the 29-15 win over South Africa this evening.

That same adjective succinctly describes what the Kiwi coach has brought to the Ireland set-up since last year.

While the build-up to this game was dominated by discussion around the lengthy injury list Schmidt had to deal with, the man himself simply remained undistracted and plotted out the perfect game plan to stun the Springboks.

“It’s funny – I didn’t mention the injuries once,” said Schmidt at the Aviva Stadium. “I think I was asked about them a lot, so I responded to questions. But never did we say that injuries were going to compromise what we were trying to do.

I talked a lot about the enthusiasm and energy of the group. As I said on Thursday, I think we did have a good spine.

“The spine probably slipped a couple of discs with Chris Henry and Rory Best coming out, but at the same time we had our nine-ten axis, and I thought they were superb today. They gave us the field position, they gave us the intelligent kicking game that we needed.”

Indeed, Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton epitomised the excellence of the Irish tactics, which wonderfully picked out South African weaknesses at crucial times.

Robbie Henshaw Schmidt was pleased with Henshaw's ability to make yards with ball in hand. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Schmidt name-checked Paul O’Connell, Devin Toner and Mike Ross as crucial components of the “spine” too, underlining the fact that the tighthead prop put in a 73-minute shift after a month on the sidelines.

Les Kiss deserves much credit too, as Ireland’s first-half defence denied the Boks the try that their dominance of possession and territory seemed to be suggesting was inevitable.

“I don’t think that you can ask for too much more from a courage perspective,” said Schmidt. “I felt that defensively in that first half, the amount of effort and endeavour that the players demonstrated was superb.

For such a big team, to give up three points and look for five or seven [in terms of not kicking for goal on penalties], I thought the determination the players showed not to allow them to get that probably built a bit of confidence for us.

“That allowed us to keep them out the entire half when they had probably five really good platforms to have a crack at us. I think that there were a number of players who really stood up physically to what was always going to be an incredibly tough assignment.”

The decision to start Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne in midfield for such a high-level encounter came under scrutiny this week too, but again Schmidt was enthused by what he saw.

“I think they did well. I think all week, we knew it was a tough ask and we talked about it on Thursday. I know it’s been a topic of discussion and I know people will make their own minds up,” said Schmidt.

Conor Murray and Rhys Ruddock celebrate Tommy Bowe's try Tommy Bowe gets the congratulations after finishing from a brilliant Murray kick. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We’ll review the game, but coming cold in reflection, I thought they both did incredibly well. There was some really physical defence from both players. I thought Robbie gave us gainline and played intelligently.

“Jared ran a great support line off Rob Kearney when Rob came back and managed to get through the gap. Jared was quick to pick him up and that’s the sort of intelligence you want in a backline.

We’re very used to having the very best intelligence in our backline. I thought the two of them combined did a really good job for us.”

Schmidt confirmed that Payne had sprained a foot in the second half, and said that with an x-ray having already been performed there should be an update by Monday or Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Schmidt said he is hopeful that Chris Henry’s virus will not see him miss the remainder of the November series.

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Murray Kinsella

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