A historic win, sure, but gruelling series has a way to go
Mulling over the next two games, Joe Schmidt displays a wary attitude to altitudes
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt wants his team to build on their first test win in Cape Town. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Yesterday the Irish and South African squads moved en bloc from their hotels near the Cape Town waterfront to their bases in the Sandton suburb of cloudy Johannesburg. One was basking in the glow of an historic win, the other hurt and wounded. Only there wasn’t too much basking or glowing going on.
In times past, Ireland would have been only too happy to return home and call their season to an end after a one-off ambush. But this squad are acutely mindful that there are two more games in this series – and history has repeatedly taught us that there is no more dangerous animal than a wounded Bok.
Ireland also now have two shots at sealing an even more famous series win. Even the All Blacks lost all five previous Test series in South Africa before their epic 2-1 win of 1996. The Lions have only achieved the feat four times in 13 tours, and only twice in their last 11 Test series in South Africa.
France have managed the feat twice as well, in 1958 and 1993, while England and Australia have never done so. So Ireland have a chance of joining some very exclusive company.
“Did you have to bring that up?” laughed Joe Schmidt in the bowels of Newlands’ olde world charm on Saturday.
“To be honest, we haven’t looked that far ahead. We’re probably going to look at this game overnight and on the flight, probably a little bit quietly because we’re on the same flight as the Springboks who are travelling up to Joburg as well. But I just think it’s going to be really tough.
“I know today we did it without a man, but sometimes mentally I’ve played in games where we’ve been down a man and played really well. I’ll never forget a game in Thomond Park with Clermont when we went down 11-3 after Jamie Cudmore had a slight disagreement with Paul O’Connell and he was off for the same length of time and we went to 13-11 up.”
Schmidt was referring to the 19th-minute red card incurred by Cudmore, despite which Clermont subsequently recovered from an 11-3 deficit to lead 13-11 before two late Munster tries.
“Munster scored with four minutes to go to win that game,” he said. “I have seen it happen before, and anyone who’s been around the game has seen that happen before.
“I wouldn’t say it was an advantage to us, but it did probably just cause them to take the foot off the accelerator a little bit. And it also caused our guys to dig a little bit deeper, and, thankfully it was just enough to tip a three-point balance.”
So, stick or twist?
Mindful of having to play three back-to-back Tests against the Springboks, and that next Saturday’s second Test comes with the disadvantage of altitude, Schmidt was probably of a mind to utilise his squad. But Saturday’s performance makes it difficult to omit some of them.
“Yeah, look, it does. I know that either way I sometimes feel that if I do that’s great and if I don’t it’s great or it’s not great. But what we’ll do is, the coaches will get together, we’ll get together with the medics and we’ll make those decisions later in the week. Some of them might get made earlier if the guys are fully fit, like the skipper and those sort of guys,” said Schmidt, for what he describes as “an unbelievably tough test for us”.
Players such as Jack McGrath cannot be expected to go 80 minutes for three Saturdays in a row. “Our guys don’t play at altitude. A lot of these [SA] players come from the Lions, I think it might be nine in the bigger squad that got selected, so for us it’s going to be a huge challenge. I guess at the moment it’s too early to tell just exactly what we might do.”
To some degree, Schmidt’s hand may be forced if CJ Stander incurs a suspension for his Saturday red card when leading with his hip into former South African under-20 team- mate Pat Lambie.
Rarely though has a red card so polarised opinion; Schmidt adamant that it was “very, very harsh”. Stander’s fate was left hanging in the balance overnight after his disciplinary hearing was adjourned until 10am today in Johannesburg.