Joe Schmidt rues ‘skinny enough’ differences between sides
Schmidt and Michael Cheika both praise Joey Carbery’s performance
Reflecting ruefully on Ireland’s missed chances in their first defeat in 13 Test matches after the 18-9 defeat to the Wallabies in the first Test at Suncorp Stadium, a slightly hoarse Joe Schmidt maintained that the differences between winning and losing were “skinny enough ones”.
Although Schmidt said the Wallabies were “incredibly physical”, he maintained: “We got in behind them a couple of times and probably over-kicked the ball – once from Conor [Murray] when it went touch in goal and another from Jacob [Stockdale] where it went off the side of his foot and straight into touch. We probably didn’t hold onto the ball as well as we would have liked.
“There was a lot of pressure at the ruck as well. [David] Pocock obviously put a lot of pressure on and he always makes a big difference to a team. Apart from that, I don’t think there was too much between the teams.”
Schmidt clearly felt that CJ Stander grounded the ball and could have been awarded a try early in the second half.
“It looked like he might have got it down. At the same time, they got one pulled down as well when it was pretty clear that a player [James Ryan] was taken out off the ball [by Adam Coleman].
“We’ll just have to dust ourselves off. It’s nothing that we didn’t expect. They’re an unbelievably athletic and talented team. The last time they played here – as I said during the week – they beat the All Blacks. That’s the level and we’ve got to be able to compete at that level and get the margins to fall our way, albeit they were pretty skinny today. With 14 minutes left we led 9-8 but,” he said with a wry smile, before adding: “you gotta lead after 80 minutes.”
Save for one missed penalty, Joey Carbery acquitted himself well in the biggest game of his career to date and Schmidt said of the 22-year-old: “I thought he was pretty solid really. He came off the field at 9-8, that’s not a bad return for a young man who’s really starting his first big tier one Test match and he put a lot of work into his preparation during the week. He’ll be disappointed that he didn’t get that [penalty kick] because it was a reasonably comfortable angle and that could have just given us a little bit of a comfort zone and applied a little bit more pressure to the Wallabies.
“But I thought his tackle quality was good and his distribution was generally good. He put a few guys into a little bit of space. He missed a couple of passes due to that pressure of time and certainly they were giving us as little as possible. They were all over us at times and it did make it very hard to be able to spring too much together.
“Twice we knocked the ball on at the ruck. There was some real frustration with the hand on the ball but we’ve got to solve that. We’ve got to make sure that we are rock solid with that sort of thing.”
This was a different type of Test from what Ireland would face in the more internecine, derby-like Six Nations and Irish captain Peter O’Mahony admitted: “That first half was one of the quickest I’ve played in my career. Every time I come up against Australia, the intensity and physicality is second to none.”
Michael Cheika looked satisfied after the Wallabies opened their Test year with a win, but clearly expects Ireland to improve.
“We spoke earlier in the lead-up about work ethic. We think Ireland are probably where they are because they’re such a hard-working team and if we were to compete, we need to have a work ethic that was at least the same, if not better, just to have a foothold in the game.
“It proved to be a bit of a slugfest, around one team going and then another team going. I was really proud of that work ethic. We tried hard to reduce our penalties as well, we can be better on that but the effort was there. Maybe only one offside penalty and I just liked the character we showed.”
Given Ireland are at the end of their season, it’s hard for them to increase, or even maintain, their work ethic, but Cheika stressed there is way more to Australia’s opponents than that.
“I don’t say that’s their only thing, I think they’ve got a huge amount of skill and talent, great players as well. But their work rate is the key, it’s the engine behind there and they worked hard tonight too.
“The Irish system is pretty good, their players are well managed and they came out here really well drilled. That was a tight match, a very tight match, and we know how good they are. We know that it’s going to get harder. They’re getting over arrival, jet lag, they mixed a few of their players, they didn’t start Johnny [Sexton], they didn’t start Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy.
“They’re going to change their look next week and we need to change our look as well because we will all have seen each other. That’s the best part about the three-match series concept, where it’s like we’re jousting one week and it’s on another week and we’ve got to change the tactics and keep the same dynamics in there. I don’t think they’ll need anything else around that, they’re very capable of lifting it a level next week.”
Cheika was asked if Schmidt’s decision not to start Johnny Sexton provided any extra motivation for the Wallabies, or if it irritated him.
“No, not at all. These days frontrowers . . . like Cian and Tadhg Furlong came on with 35 minutes to go, just after half-time. They played a significant part of the game. Johnny a little bit later but Carbery, he’s a star. I’ve been watching him and I went up to him after the game because I’ve never met him before and I said, ‘I love your work’ because that guy can play footy, he is an outstanding player
“I reckon Johnny wouldn’t have been happy letting him have the start. When he came on, Johnny was as threatening as ever. He’s always sniffing around and giving us trouble, he’s got a kicking game, all that type of stuff. I can understand what the coach is doing there, for sure.”
Cheika is also wise enough to appreciate that Ireland will change more than personnel for next Saturday’s second Test in Melbourne.
“Ireland are very consistent with what they do and they’re very good at it. That’s not to say they won’t change some things next week as well. Everyone talks about us coming off the back of one week’s preparation, well really they’ve only had that as well. By the time Leinster finished playing, they had what, a week off and then they got a week’s preparation. They will get better for sure.”
Regarding the Wallabies’ decision to tap a penalty from close to the posts with nine minutes left when leading 11-9, their captain Michael Hooper said: “We thought it would change the picture.”
It certainly did that.