Billy Stickland/INPHO

'I’m still incredibly proud of how hard the players worked' - Joe Schmidt

There are plenty of positives for an Ireland side that may be running on empty after a gruelling campaign.

A BATTERED AND BRUISED Ireland squad arrived in Port Elizabeth yesterday ahead of next Saturday’s series decider at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

A 17th Test at the end of a 52-week season after two physical encounters with South Africa is a huge ask for Joe Schmidt’s side. It won’t be easy to park the trauma of the 3

​2​-26 defeat in Johannesburg but there is still a series and a shot of history on the line.
The surroundings of Port Elizabeth, a relaxed coastal city located on South Africa’s Eastern Cape may well prove the perfect environment for this Irish squad to heal bodies and minds in the coming days ahead of this seismic third Test.

Back at sea level and with CJ Stander available once more having served his one-match ban, there are plenty of positives for Ireland. The big fear, however, is that this playing group may be running on empty after a gruelling campaign.

Schmidt was 18 minutes away from arguably his greatest achievement as a coach and to watch it unravel at such an alarming rate was hugely disconcerting.

“I’m always fearful of lots of things,” said Schmidt

“I think there’s always that potential but the one thing I would say is that in the end we had a six-point differential coming out of Newlands; they got a six-point differential today. It couldn’t be more all-square. We’re going to take a little bit of confidence from that, particularly in the context of the enormous odds that were staked out against us even winning one test.”

“I’ve got to say I’m still incredibly proud of how hard the players worked, and maybe how hard they’ve worked in the last one and a half games reflected in that last half a game, and was starting to tell. We knew how tired some of our players were after Newlands. We tried to keep the spine of the team together, but we knew we needed fresh blood. We knew we needed some freshness to give us an opportunity to keep our intensity up, and I thought we did it really well, especially for that first 40.”

“Even in that first ten after half-time, to be honest we weren’t great. They lost the ball forward in the 22, and we scrambled it out. They were starting to put a little bit of pressure on us and we were just hanging in. We sort of needed to get a foothold.”

“We got a couple of kicks either side of half-time that might have gives us just a little bit of a springboard and confidence but that’s not taking anything away from

Paddy at all. I think he’s kicked superbly in the two matches so far, and in that first-half to give us that 12-3 lead with his boot, and then to kick the two conversions that he did, that was vital obviously.”

Saturday was shaping up to be a classic Schmidt performance. Hard carries, sharp running lines, quick recycling, aggressive defence, sharp set piece work and an intelligent kicking game had the Springboks on the back foot for the opening 40 minutes. To have held a 16-point lead twice during the game, at half-time and on the hour mark, makes the defeat all the more painful.

“Yeah, again, I know that it’s not good enough that last quarter, but when you’re working with a team of five changes, the guys I thought linked up really well and they delivered against a very big team,” said the Kiwi.

“I’m still really proud of what they’ve done so far but they’re really disappointed as am I and I think our supporters will be really disappointed because how often do you get that opportunity to create a bit of history that as an individual team only the All Blacks have done? We’re pretty devastated because of the position we put ourselves in and we let it slip through our fingers.”

- This article was updated at 8.55am to amend a duplication.

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