Ireland and O’Driscoll save the very best for last
Joe Schmidt cites work ethic and unity as champions’ decisive qualities
Ireland’s Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll celebrate after the game. Photograoh: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
The final table tells no lies. Ireland are Six Nations champions for only the second time in 29 years. The margin may have been miniscule to the dramatic end, but this was their reward for seeing out games to the last minute, ensuring they both scored the most tries and conceded the least. Champions of Europe alright.
After finishing runner-up on three occasions on points difference, in 2001, 2004 and, most cruelly of all, by a late French try here against Scotland in 2007, there was a further element of justice. They produced their best performance of the championship in Paris against a French team that also reserved their best till last.
Asked what qualities had made Ireland champions, Joe Schmidt cited two main factors.
“Work ethic. Unity. I think they’re just a great group that worked really hard and I thought we saw some trust in each other tonight that’s developed with the group that’s been there. They’ve very much earned the right to be champions, I think. I don’t think they ever sat back and just said ‘look, we’ve got a talented group, we’re capable’. They said ‘we’ve got to work hard and get our nose over the line’.”
Ultimately, there had to be an element of doing it for him as well as themselves and for the country. Schmidt disputed whether he had brought Brian O’Driscoll to tears in the dressing-room before the game, but did reveal he had played the O’Driscoll card beforehand.
“I don’t know if he cried. I just tapped him on the shoulder and said [to the dressing-room]: ‘It’s a special day, you don’t know how many special days you’re going to get in a career or in a lifetime. This guy’s had some special ones but he’d love for this one to be particularly special and let’s make sure we do the best we can to make sure that happens’.”
“That was probably the only reference all week. Apart from that it was just making sure we knew what to expect from France and unfortunately they didn’t disappoint. We felt that there would be a fairly formidable response from some pressure that they were under and I thought they played incredibly well and they were very hard to contain.”
Schmidt had no doubt that O’Driscoll had all the qualities to be a good coach, even if he was likely to be a “house husband” for the next while.