Joe Schmidt: latest All Blacks victory surpasses Chicago
‘It’s a bit special at home and it was special because of what happened in 2013’
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt and New Zealand counterpart Steve Hansen before the game. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Not so long ago, this was even more fanciful than the stuff of dreams.
From no wins in 29 meetings over a period of 111 years against the almighty All Blacks, to two wins in three meetings over the last three seasons.
What made this 16-9 win even more special than Soldier Field was that it happened in front of a feverish Saturday night full house in the Aviva. The decibel levels eclipsed even the old Lansdowne Roar.
Now a citadel like never before, this was an 11th successive home win, but most of all this was the first Irish win over the All Blacks on home soil in 17 attempts.
Coming five years on from the All Blacks’ act of escapology in the same ground, and their nasty revenge mission two years ago, made it all the more special. Hence, even Joe Schmidt was moved to concede that this was better.
“The win in Chicago probably took us a little bit by surprise in that it had been a limited week. We really only trained on the Thursday. We had a bit of a walk-through on the Tuesday and we didn’t really probably expect things to go the way they did, five tries to four.”
Recalling the set-piece try by Robbie Henshaw which sealed the win and his delight for the players that day, nonetheless Schmidt admitted: “It’s a bit special at home and it was a bit special tonight because of what happened in 2013, and because of how the crowd were. I thought the crowd were unbelievable and if you need a 16th man, there’s not many better places to go than Aviva Stadium, Dublin.”
Whatever about Steve Hansen’s kidology that Ireland are now the World Cup favourites, this win further raises the bar.
“We want to be as good as we can be, so we try to create our own expectation,” said Schmidt. “We’ll benchmark tonight and say: ‘Can we reach that again? Can we make sure that we deliver at that level?
“Now, you might deliver that again and an All Black team might beat you, because three of the chances that they created – they might take one or two or three of those. But you know you’re in the ball-park, you know you can foot it with the big boys when you can eke your way through an arm-wrestle like that.”
As to whether Ireland can improve further, Schmidt says they have no option.
“I think you’ve got to keep getting better. If we don’t get better than that I know the next time we play the All Blacks they will be.”
Noting the strides being made by England, Scotland, Wales and France, he added: “So all that projects forward to what will be a very competitive Six Nations. Yes, there’ll be some expectation because we’re the current champions and have been three out of the last five years, so therefore we expect that there should be some pressure on us to produce performances in the Six Nations.
“But at the same time we’re realistic, because we know how good those other teams are and we know how good we’re going to have to be.”
Inevitably asked whether this might sway him one way or the other in his decision to stay or go after the World Cup, Schmidt again said he can readily compartmentalise these games.
“To be honest, I’d like to think about it but it’s very much a family decision and I haven’t really seen my family since I went to Chicago. We had a pretty good chat about it over the summer and then we’ll just confirm things, one way or the other.
“I definitely don’t want it to become an issue when you get a win like that. I’d be very much a sidebar because those guys [players] were front and centre. They were massive tonight. Huge.”
Steve Hansen – who also confirmed he would make an announcement by Christmas regarding his future post-World Cup – sought to keep this latest defeat in perspective, events which may lead some to surmise that the All Blacks’ door is being opened for Schmidt, but that looks premature.
“It’s moments like this when you’ve had a bit of adversity that you’ve got to set your sail to the wind, stand up and be strong with your convictions about where you’re going,” he said.
“We’ve tried to change how we want to play and we’re still stuck between the old way and the new way. We haven’t got it right yet,” he said, but maintained: “When we get it right, we’ll see some big improvements.”
The All Blacks coach also remained generous in defeat when asked about the Aviva atmosphere.
“That’s the sad thing about being a coach, you’re in the coaches’ box so you don’t really hear anything. But you could tell at the end of it what it meant to the Irish fans.
“It’s a hell of a city to come to. You don’t tour many places like this country and the people are great, and they’re getting a bit of success that they’ve longed for, for a long, long time, and they’ve taken the monkey off Munster’s back, haven’t they? They’re going to make more players now and more money. But just the joy that people got out of it was fantastic, and good on ’em.”
In the context of the constant pressure of expectations on the All Blacks, Hansen added: “Now Ireland will have mounting expectations on them, and that can bring about pressure if you’re not used to dealing with it. Success can do that to you. I look forward to seeing how they go with it.”
Clever, but this week he and the All Blacks had been outsmarted in Dublin.