Ewen McKenzie thinks Joe Schmidt has Ireland on the right track
‘He’s got the right spirit about the game and I sense a lot of confidence in him from the rugby community so there’ll be support and he’ll get on with it’
Stephen Moore revealed the secret to Ireland beating New Zealand: just stop Kieran Read. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
We approached the Wallabies afterwards cap in hand. Help us, please help us. After this painfully laboured showing how on earth does Ireland cope with what comes next?
Stephen Moore, being of Irish blood, Australian heart, took pity on us and revealed the secret to avoiding a total blackout.
“I’ll say one thing: you just got to stop Kieran Read getting his hands on the ball and having an influence on the game.”
Somebody write this down. Stop the best player in the world from offloading or running or leaping. Check.
“That’s very hard to do at the moment but he is the absolute key to their side. Limit his impact on the game and you have a chance.”
Got it. Crisis allayed. But seriously, Ewen McKenzie understands Joe Schmidt’s predicament better than most. Super Rugby champion as head coach of the Queensland Reds when promoted in July he knew a complete overhaul was required after the abysmal Lions series. And he brought Quade Cooper in from the cold.
Still, blitzed by the All Blacks, battered by the Springboks, it was a painful few months before Dublin provided a redemptive moment.
“I understand exactly where he is at,” said McKenzie of the task facing Schmidt’s Ireland as a Dan Carter-less New Zealand come menacingly into view.“Everyone would like things to be right on the night, just turn up and suddenly everything changes. But he’s got strong credentials . . . and he’s a pretty meticulous operator. He’ll be disappointed, naturally, but you also know that he will want to get on with how he wants to play.
“I don’t know how they judge their coaches over here . . . you just have to roll with it and keep going. It’s difficult but he’ll push through. He’s got the right spirit about the game and I sense a lot of confidence in him from the rugby community so there’ll be support, he’ll get on with it.”
McKenzie, a candidate for Schmidt’s job not so long ago, designed the blueprint for this victory. They stymied Ireland’s high tempo game by illegally slowing ball and hustling Eoin Reddan while Mike Ross was successfully targeted at scrum-time. Thing were looking desperate after Twickenham, even harking back to yesteryear by carrying benches onto the field to suck their oranges in plain sight.
“We’ve been trying everything,” said Moore. “It’s something we brought in and Ewen is superstitious so we kept with it . . . we’ll see what happens when the weather changes in Scotland.”
Edge of despair
Moore, with battle scars streaked across his face, spent last Wednesday visiting his grandmother at a nursing home in Navan, where he was embraced by four generations of Moores.
But back to black. This is the edge of despair, isn’t it?
“You have to be hopeful, don’t you? There’s no point turning up to play if you don’t think you can win. Without knowing what’s going on in Ireland’s dressingroom, they’ll be keen to pick themselves up and have a really good week. They’ll probably feel they owe it to their fans to finish up with a really good performance.
“There’s no doubt New Zealand will be tough. They’re the best team in the world. In a way, it will probably be easier to prepare for because you know what’s coming. There’s a good chance they’re going to play really well so you need to hit that mark.”
Michael Hooper, a deserved man of the match, was harshly sin binned on 32 minutes, having surfed on the edge of legality one too many times for Chris Pollock’s liking.
On stopping New Zealand: “We haven’t found the recipe yet but every team is beatable. We were growing this year when we played them. That’s our goal – to take these guys down. That’s why these games, to tune up and get our systems in place, are important. Because everyone want to be number one.”
Ireland are far from that mindset but the number ones come next.