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Dublin: 7 °C Thursday 24 January, 2019

'It's kind of daunting' - Schmidt's Ireland set a new world-class marker

The Ireland head coach is already thinking about the meeting with the All Blacks in Dublin.

Murray Kinsella reports from Chicago

LET’S JUST PUT this all in perspective again.

New Zealand had won 18 Test matches in a row. They’d scored 60 tries in 10 games this year, conceding only 11. The best team of all time, according to some.

The All Blacks were coming into Saturday’s clash at Soldier Field with vast swathes of time together in the bank.

Ireland’s head coach Joe Schmidt with Conor Murray Schmidt congratulates Conor Murray after Ireland's win. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Ireland, on the other hand, had been severely hampered in their preparation. Their starting team had a run-out two Thursdays ago, before the full squad gathered two days later, training last Monday before a flight to Chicago.

There was a walk-through on Tuesday, a day off on Wednesday, before they carried out an excellent and important full squad session on Thursday, which Joe Schmidt says “everyone got a bit of confidence from.”

Then Ireland went out and beat the All Blacks in Soldier Field, scoring five tries in a remarkable 40-29 victory.

This was Ireland’s first game since Joe Schmidt re-signed through to the 2019 World Cup and, aside from the sheer scale of the achievement as a standalone, it bodes well for the future.

It’s kind of daunting, you know?” says Schmidt when asked how exciting a marker Saturday’s win is for Ireland.

“The amount of emotion that went into that, as well as organisation. We didn’t have too much time to train, but the training we did was bang on and all we can really guarantee is that we will keep working really hard.

“It’s a reference point for us. Some of those reference points are incredibly encouraging.

“They still slipped through and got some tries that we’d be pretty frustrated about, and we got out of our system a few times in the lead-up to their second try. But at the same time, sometimes you don’t get too analytical after a win like that.”

Joe Schmidt and Simon Zebo celebrate winning Schmidt and Simon Zebo at Soldier Field. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Nonetheless, Schmidt confirmed post-match that he would review the game on Saturday night, as well as Sunday morning, and then have another viewing on the flight home from Chicago yesterday.

Though Schmidt will take deep pleasure from helping his players to achieve this historic feat, he is programmed to look instantly forward.

Negotiating Canada this weekend in Dublin is his priority for now, and then the All Blacks come to town looking for a measure of revenge.

Schmidt is wary of the backlash, and believes that the weaknesses Ireland were able to expose in Chicago will be covered over. Locks Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano and Sam Whitelock all missed last weekend’s Test.

I think what it does demonstrate is that any team is susceptible if there are injuries,” says Schmidt. “Take out those three second rows, and you get a few injuries during the game as well, and you can be vulnerable.

“I think rugby is such an inter-dependant game that as soon as one of the cogs gets shifted slightly, or they’re not quite in unison with the other cogs, the wheel doesn’t turn too well.

“I certainly would sympathise with the All Blacks a little bit because that wasn’t the All Blacks team that we’ve seen through the Rugby Championship and I’d have no doubt – I’m not sure what will happen with Luke Romano – but Brodie Retallick will be fit to contest the match in Dublin I would think and he’ll change a fair bit of what they can deliver at lineout time.”

While the All Blacks were hampered by the non-availability of some high-profile frontliners, the absences of Sean O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony were not felt by Ireland.

Schmidt had drawn plenty of frustration from supporters with his selection of Rob Kearney at fullback for the fixture at Soldier Field, but was amply rewarded by an excellent performance from the Louth man.

Joe Schmidt celebrates winning with Donnacha Ryan Donnacha Ryan gets a hug from his head coach. Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

Meanwhile, the likes of Jordi Murphy – who suffered “significant knee ligament damage” – Joey Carbery, Donnacha Ryan, Finlay Bealham and others all justified their selections in the match day squad.

“I think one of the ways to try to build depth is to show confidence in people,” says Schmidt.

“If you have someone who is a fantastic player but they’re not quite Test match fit, and you go with someone who you believe is maybe Test match fit who’s developing as a really good player, I think it keeps a bit of pressure on players.

“Because they can be the best player but not necessarily get selected if they’re not fully fit and at the same time it grows the group a little bit.

I think the coaching staff, and the group themselves, are committed to try and grow a really competitive 30/32[-man squad] and beyond. The more the better. We probably left a few guys back there, but we brought a few guys with us who worked incredibly hard today.”

It remains to be seen what part O’Brien and O’Mahony play in the second clash with the All Blacks, or this weekend against Canada, but we can rest assured that Schmidt is already planning and plotting for that tie.

He will give the Canadians the attention and respect they deserve, while the rest of us begin to anticipate another enthralling Test match.

“The reality is that we did get them [the All Blacks] when they were a little bit vulnerable,” says Schmidt.

“After the World Cup, people asked why there was such a big gap between North and South. There’s not a chasm there; it only takes a little bit of fluctuation for someone to be off their game and another team to knock them over, you know?

Steve Hansen congratulates Joe Schmidt after the game Steve Hansen will be back for another bite at Ireland in two weekends' time. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“That’s why I said the All Blacks were under staffed today and you wouldn’t say we were at full strength necessarily, but we were at full fitness.

That was what we planned and I know some of the decisions were queried, but we had in our minds exactly what we felt we needed to do.

“We don’t always get that right, things don’t always work out as you hope, so it’s daunting from that perspective because those margins are very fine.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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