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Dublin: 10 °C Saturday 19 October, 2019
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'It’s been a privilege' - Schmidt set to bid farewell in final home game

With Wales in town, the Ireland head coach is hoping for a happy last hurrah.

PLAYED 33, WON 27, drawn one, lost five.

Joe Schmidt will hope his Ireland team can add another victory to his record as head coach at the Aviva Stadium today against Wales, but the numbers already make for impressive reading.

Consider too that the All Blacks, the Wallabies, the Springboks, England, Wales, France, and Scotland are among those to have been vanquished at Lansdowne Road in his tenure, and Schmidt’s time at the Dublin venue has certainly been a success.

joe-schmidt-celebrates-winning-with-cj-stander-and-jonathan-sexton Schmidt celebrates the 2017 victory over England in Dublin. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The 53-year-old will oversee Ireland at this stadium for the final time this afternoon [KO 2pm, Channel 4], with his time as boss coming to an end after the World Cup in Japan.

Schmidt will leave with some frustrations about the occasional shortcoming at the Aviva, but largely he will have good memories.

“It’s a bit of a blur, to be honest,” says Schmidt when asked about his favourite home games. “I think the great days have been the ones where the players have done something a little bit special, and you’ve seen players grow.

“A few years ago [in 2017], England were on the cusp of breaking the record for the most consecutive wins [having won 18 in a row] and they were on the cusp of going back-to-back Grand Slams.

“Kieran Marmion started at nine that day and did such a phenomenal job for us, and Luke McGrath coming off the bench, he put that kick into the corner that just took the pressure off.

“And Peter O’Mahony had come into the starting XV when Jamie Heaslip pulled out so late in the day; he grabs the lineout right towards the end, plucks it away from Maro Itoje. There’s moments like that that obviously linger.

“There were the sad days, like 2013 against the All Blacks, but they’re counter-balanced now because whoever has come here we’ve managed to beat at some stage through the last six years so it’s been a privilege.”

The November 2018 victory over the Kiwis, Ireland’s first-ever win against them on home soil, “was huge” for Schmidt.

joe-schmidt-and-steve-hansen-before-the-game Schmidt got the better of Steve Hansen in 2018. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

He will cherish achievements like that one when the dust settles after the World Cup, while Schmidt also has fond memories of some big days at the Aviva during his time as Leinster boss.

“I think the glass is incredibly thick in the coaches box which is probably a good thing sometimes, but even then you could feel the atmosphere,” says Schmidt of the 2018 win over New Zealand.

“It was phenomenal, right up until that last play where the ball went down and we’re just outside our 22 and we’re coming off the line… those are moments that you do certainly cherish.

“It’s been a privilege to have been involved in Leinster as well. Watching Isa Nacewa score that try against Leicester when we desperately needed that [in the 2011 Heineken Cup quarter-finals].

“We’d butchered a try in the first half, Richardt Strauss gave it off and all the player had to do was catch it and put it down and we would have had breathing space and then when it became so tight for someone like Isa to go 45 metres, pretty much, was phenomenal.

“The Toulouse game [in the 2011 semi-finals], where early in the game [David] Skrela hits the post and we think, ‘Oh that’s great, he’s missed’ except that they got seven points off it because it bounces on the ground and they score. I think the lead changed six times in a semi-final of Europe and to win that one was super as well.

“The year of the big snow [December 2010], the Clermont game, we’d lost away there but the following week Cian Healy had a big breakfast and he charged through most people who were in his way.

“All those things kind of meld into a fantastic memory bank. We’ve had a few days where we’ve slipped up as well but they’re very, very few which has been a relief really because you’re emotionally connected, your head’s in the game and when the game goes well, it’s a massive relief.”

Schmidt doesn’t tend to dwell on the past too often, however, and his sole focus this afternoon is on his current Ireland team finishing their World Cup warm-up schedule with a bang, particularly with front-liners Johnny Sexton, Keith Earls and Robbie Henshaw making their first appearances of the season.

jordan-larmour Ireland go up against Wales at the Aviva today. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The Ireland boss will hope for no injuries to his 31-man squad before they fly out to Japan on Wednesday, but he also stressed that players can’t hold back against what will be a strong Welsh side led by captain Alun Wyn Jones.

A strong performance would certainly give Ireland momentum heading towards their first World Cup game against Scotland – who beat Georgia last night – in Yokohama on 22 September.

Victory in Dublin today would also see Ireland go to the top of World Rugby’s official rankings for the first time ever, not that Schmidt is too concerned with that.  

“I think you have to fully commit to this game, first and foremost, because there is always a risk that if you are half-pied at all, if you are trying to look after yourself for the flight over, you don’t get the flight because you are half a yard slow and you are slightly vulnerable somewhere,” says Schmidt of what he wants to see from his players.

“I think the best way to protect yourself is to be fully committed to the game and I think the players are driving that message amongst themselves and, hopefully, we’ll see evidence of that.

“If we can get a good performance and show we’ve slowly built through the last three weeks, having freshened up a little bit, starting to enter that phase of tapering to perform.

“I’d like to think that we can get our timing right and it should be apparent in the performances. Obviously, we had to pick up from two weeks ago, there’s still a lot to pick up from last weekend, but I’d hope that the trajectory is heading in the right direction.”

Ireland:

15. Rob Kearney
14. Jordan Larmour
13. Robbie Henshaw
12. Bundee Aki
11. Keith Earls
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray

1. Cian Healy
2. Rory Best (captain)
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. James Ryan
5. Jean Kleyn
6. CJ Stander
7. Josh van der Flier
8. Jack Conan.

Replacements:

16. Sean Cronin
17. Dave Kilcoyne
18. Andrew Porter
19. Iain Henderson
20. Rhys Ruddock
21. Luke McGrath
22. Jack Carty
23. Garry Ringrose

Wales:

15. Leigh Halfpenny
14. George North
13. Jonathan Davies
12. Hadleigh Parkes
11. Josh Adams
10. Rhys Patchell
9. Tomos Williams

1. Wyn Jones
2. Elliot Dee
3. Tomas Francis
4. Jake Ball
5. Alun Wyn Jones (captain)
6. Aaron Wainwright
7. Justin Tipuric
8. Ross Moriarty

Replacements:

16. Ken Owens
17. Nicky Smith
18. Dillon Lewis
19. Adam Beard
20. Josh Navidi
21. Gareth Davies
22. Dan Biggar
23. Liam Williams

Referee: Mathieu Raynal [France].

- This article was updated at 8.48am to include the erroneously absent Ireland backline in the team list section. 

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Murray Kinsella

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