Joe Schmidt: ‘Nothing feels monumental when it’s one-all’

Ireland coach holding fire ahead of showdown in Sydney next Saturday

Ireland’s Keith Earls challenges for the ball with Australia’s Israel Folau and Marika Koroibete during the second Test at AAMI Park in Melbourne. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland’s Keith Earls challenges for the ball with Australia’s Israel Folau and Marika Koroibete during the second Test at AAMI Park in Melbourne. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

A first Irish win over the Wallabies in Australia for 39 years can be considered a notable landmark victory in its own right. But although Joe Schmidt was in altogether chirpier mood than at the same time a week ago, he also made it clearer that the bigger prize awaited in next Saturday’s series decider.

Asked if a first win here since 1979 felt like a huge one for this team, Schmidt said: “Probably not right now because all we did was balance the series. I think it all depends on what we can deliver next week and I know the Wallabies will be thinking the same thing. They’re a really good side and if they do get a bit more access I know, as you saw toward the end, we were chasing shadows.

“So, nothing feels monumental when it’s one-all. It feels like there’s still a huge amount to play for. So we’ll glue ourselves back together, get the trip out of the way to Sydney tomorrow and Monday, have a bit of a look back at the game and then Tuesday/Thursday get back out on the training pitch in North Sydney Oval and try to work our way through things.

“There’s still a few things that we know we need to do better because we know they’re going to keep getting better. I think it’s really evenly poised and I wouldn’t be keen on favouring either side just because the way the series has gone so far; both games have really been in the balance.”

Schmidt seemed quite confident that the trio of Irish players – Andrew Conway, Dan Leavy and Cian Healy – who sustained injuries should all recover in time for the third Test.

Ireland’s Cian Healy is injured in the tackle by Scott Sio of Australia during the second Test in Melbourne. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Ireland’s Cian Healy is injured in the tackle by Scott Sio of Australia during the second Test in Melbourne. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

“Andrew, I’d say he could train fully on Tuesday. He got a hip pointer, just that bruise that’s debilitating at the time but I think over the next 48 hours that will wear itself through and I’d be really confident with Andrew Conway.

“Cian just a smack on the AC, which again is temporarily debilitating but he could still well be okay. Dan got a whack right on the sternum, which again is very uncomfortable but he could have potentially played on and I thought Jordi Murphy came on and did a really good job in his place.

“There were a few other guys we changed with cramp toward the end and that’s probably reflective of the ball in play time. There wasn’t a lot of kicking and there was a lot of chasing people around and that made it a real challenge.”

In a typically detailed analysis of the game, all the more so in light of an Irish win, Schmidt said: “I think we looked after our ball a lot better, there were probably half as many turnovers as we had last week, so that didn’t allow them as much access to play off turnover ball, where we know they’re so dangerous.

“I felt we repaired a bit of stuff in the air, I don’t think Israel Folau had as much access because Keith Earls was super in the air, he got very high. He’s not quite the same size as Israel Folau but he is dynamic when he’s going up for the ball. The scrum was nice and solid and I felt we even got a little bit of pressure at times, and the ball retention was good.

“In that third quarter, we broke the line a couple of times really well but it was difficult to score in behind it. Nick Phipps’s tackle on Keith Earls was an absolute try saver. It’s a Nick Phipps speciality really, he works so hard in behind the line, he’s a very good cover defender and he did a great job.

“The pop up to Rob Kearney, he didn’t quite get over and there was probably a couple of penalties conceded down there subsequent to that that they probably put some pressure on themselves trying to get off the line and stop us scoring at that stage.

“Thankfully, Tadhg managed to get over in the end. I just thought that third quarter was probably defining for us and allowed us that buffer towards the end where we had Joey Carbery coming on to replace Devin Toner. I haven’t seen that too many times, luckily we didn’t have to throw him up in the lineout!

“We were just hanging in towards the end there, which you don’t want to be against an Australian team with the athletes they have and the way they like to play with width. It was hard to stop their access, so it was another nip-and-tuck game. If people wanted a Test series, I think it’s a genuine test every time. That’s probably no surprise.”

Asked if Johnny Sexton was “a happier man in the sheds tonight” after starting and winning, Schmidt said: “He’s always happy!” Then he paused and, with a chuckle, corrected himself: “Nah, he’s never happy. He’s a champion, as is Pete, that’s why they lead the team around the place so well.

“Part of what we committed to here coming on the tour was to try to provide opportunity. It was great for Tadhg Beirne to make his Test debut this evening, and he acquitted himself really well. There were a couple of really good tackles in that last 15 minutes that he was involved, and Jordan Larmour – another really important investment for him to get really good time in a Test match, where he’s going to be put under pressure in a Test match. I thought he acquitted himself really well.

“So, those aspects are things that are positives for us regardless of the outcome but we’re massively changing the outcome at the same time.”

In relation to Niall Scannell’s solid showing, strong in the set pieces and in his carrying, rather pointedly Schmidt said: “Yea, I thought our scrum was solid. He’s probably our biggest scrummaging hooker and I thought he threw really well early on as well.”

He also hailed Rob Herring’s performance before saying: “I know we’ll look back at Niall’s game and he’ll look back at it, and we’ll try to forge a little bit of a pathway to progress a little bit further.”

On being informed that Tadhg Furlong was man of the match, Schmidt was amused. “Was he Man of the Match? Really? I didn’t hear that. It must have been that spectacular dive to reach and get that try, I didn’t realise his arms were that long – he obviously wasn’t reaching into his pocket,” he added, laughing, “but I thought he did incredibly well to reach out and score that try.

“He scrummed well, his line-break in the first half – he got lonely, he was in so much space that he got a little bit confused but then he tried to throw this mountainous pass out to the edge which got intercepted.

“It’s not enough for Tadhg, he got it back then which was super play. Defensively, he worked really hard.

“He’s really deserving of that man of the match award, there’s a few other guys like Pete beside me, Pete’s three turnovers were crucial and he’d a couple of really good ball carries, good lineout pressure that he provided. There’s James Ryan again, CJ Stander – that relentless energy that they bring to the side. There’s a host of guys that worked really hard tonight, but you have to. You just have to against a side of that calibre.”

Describing the match as “hugely physical, hugely intense”, O’Mahony said: “It was as expected when you come up against one of the best teams in the world, the physicality. Up front, we had a lot of ball in the first half and even in the second half, there was a lot of breakdown stuff so it was a very challenging, physical game.”

When it was put to him that Ireland dealt better with the threats posed by David Pocock and Michael Hooper at the breakdown, O’Mahony said: “I think somewhat better. I still think they get in there and get a couple of turnovers but it’s hard playing against two of the best in the world at that game. We’d be happy with some of the improvement we’ve made but it’s certainly an area for us to continue to work on to target those type of guys.”

He had the biggest impact himself, winning three breakdown penalties.

“A couple, yeah.”

You must be very pleased?

“Yea, happy enough.”

As Schmidt laughed, O’Mahony had the faintest of smiles.

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