Gerry Thornley: Springboks suffer from northern exposure
Ireland kick-off autumn series with clinical display against woeful South Africa
Rhys Ruddock scores his try against South Africa. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
How to follow that? An injury free, record 38-3 win over a South African team ranked, eh, fifth in the world cemented Ireland’s hold on fourth place, and provides quite a benchmark for the forthcoming games against Fiji and Argentina.
Ireland returned to camp last night buoyed by such a resounding win, but with little or no risk of euphoria creeping into the squad in their Carton House base this week.
“I don’t really guard against it,” said Joe Schmidt after Saturday’s win at the Aviva Stadium. “We have a really level-headed group and so I have to speak a lot less often than people think. They are very much self led. They have a strong leadership group and a strong culture amongst themselves to stay level-headed, to keep their feet on the ground and to roll their sleeves up when it comes to training to make sure that we can try to be as cohesive and accurate and combative as we can be from week-to-week.
“That won’t probably be any different once we kick off again on Monday. We’ll come back in on Sunday evening, maybe have a quick look at a couple of things and then use that as our starting point for the week.”
In a curious way, the sheer scale of Ireland’s win - more than doubling the biggest winning margin achieved over South Africa by 32-15 at this venue, 11 years ago to the day - somehow detracted from the day.
“Sometimes when the score does get away it probably just does not have quite the same value, because you were not under as much pressure,” said Schmidt, who added that “the size of the win is not as relevant as people might think because we are always trying to look at our own performance, and the context of what we are allowed to do and what our opponents did to pressure us and how we responded to that.”
Schmidt had a good deal of sympathy for his counterpart Allister Coetzee, who now looks to be in even more of a beleaguered position, as well as his assistants, and maintained any team can have an off day, or that even when the margins are fine games can get away from teams.
But even the exacting Schmidt had to admit every Irish play made very positive contributions to this win, adding: “I don’t think there was anyone who didn’t have a really solid performance. It doesn’t take too many patchy players in the opposition who didn’t quite have an on-day for little gaps to appear.”
The Irish coach would be of a mind to use all of the squad in this window, but although there’ll be quite a few changes for the meeting with Fiji, that is not a done deal.
“When we first came in two weeks ago, we said bottom line is you’ve to earn what you get,” he explained. “You’ve to really commit to what we’re trying to achieve and the energy levels have to be good. Guys have bought into that really well. Nobody’s let the side down. It will allow us to expand a little bit, but there’s a degree of comfort in that uncomfortable arena the Test match ensures, for players to have a bit of a spine of experience, for guys who’ve been there and under pressure before, who know what the best decision is and everyone commits to that decision.”
The day was also notable for one of Schmidt’s former players at Leinster, Ian McKinley, making his debut for his adopted country of Italy in their win over Fiji.
“Fantastic,” said Schmidt. “What a great kid. Natural left-footer. Fantastic defender; courageous, but technically smart as well. Can control the game really well.”
Drawing a comparison with Bundee Aki, Schmidt said: “I suppose in a week that’s been difficult for a guy who has qualified here to get a match jersey on and really, I think, make himself proud and anyone who was watching proud, I think Ian McKinley - no-one deserves it more.
“I know that the door was closed a bit here for him because he couldn’t wear the goggles but a champion bloke and I certainly wish him all the very best - except potentially if he comes back here in round two of the Six Nations, ” said Schmidt with a chuckle. “We’re going to have to try to shut him down I suppose.”