Schmidt’s history boys draw on emotion

Irish coach will lift alcohol ban after All Blacks blown way in the Windy City

For a national team like Ireland’s to beat the most dominant international rugby team of all time and for the first time in 111 years of trying has to count as simply the best one-off win by any Irish team ever. History had weighed heavily whenever this fixture was re-enacted but now a huge weight has been lifted on all Irish teams for ever more.

The blueprint having been set by the near miss in November 2013, and the detail having been established, Ireland drew energy from their mark of respect toward Anthony Foley. Lining up opposite the haka in a shape of '8' to honour the 62-times capped Irish number eight, for once it was an Irish team which perhaps extracted more of the pre-match pageantry.

Fittingly, their Munster players, Conor Murray, CJ Stander, Donnacha Ryan and Simon Zebo were chosen to line up at the front of the two circles.

Joe Schmidt afterwards hailed the team's character


“I really thought the players did themselves proud. To be fair, they did Axel proud and his family and they did their country proud. I think the supporters did well as well. The longer the game went, the more they got behind the team.”

The Irish coach admitted that the alcohol ban for Sunday morning’s flight home will probably be scratched as soon as the players take their seats, and admitted he may not obey it himself.

“I think I actually said something inadvertently during the week like ‘well if you win here, I don’t really care too much about what you do the rest of the series’. So I’ve probably put my foot in it there. Besty being the stickler he is will probably remind me about that all night and on the fight home where there’s an alcohol ban which will probably be lifted as soon as the boys sit down,” said Schmidt in reference to his captain, before admitting: ‘I’m probably not going to obey the alcohol myself.”

Regarding their response to the haka, Rory Best said: "I think it was something that we just talked about through the management to the players. I think a lots been made of the really sad news that Munster got a few weeks ago and this was the national team's first time together since his passing so we felt that it was the right thing to do and then to put the Munster body to the front that."

“It just felt like the right thing to do and it was our way, as an Irish national team, just to show a mark of respect to Axel and his family.”

“Obviously, there was a lot of emotion and the Munster boys got a lot from that. It was just an emotionally-charged day for us. Ultimately, we did a lot of our work earlier in the week so we could draw on a bit of that emotion.”

Best acknowledged that this win had to be celebrated, albeit that the game against Canada next week is followed by a rematch with the wounded All Blacks and a series finale at home to Australia.

“You’ve got to take a moment every time you make history. Knowing Joe, it will probably be a brief moment. It’s quite hard to sit here and it is a massive thing for us and it’s a massive mark of the respect to the All Blacks because it means so much to us because they are such a quality side and they’ve shown it.”

Schmidt had hoped that such an Irish performance was going to happen, albeit that the All Blacks were a little under powered. “I think the players were determined that it arrive. To be fair to the All Blacks, they were missing a number of second rows and that allowed us access into the game. They missed a few lineouts and Besty cleaned up a few and it gave us the possession that we need to try and put the pressure on in that first-half. They got injuries during the game as well. You know when you end up with a loose forward on the wing or playing in the midfield. It did just give us a bit of confidence.

“At the same time, over half the lads were playing Pro12 rugby last weekend. To put everything together last weekend, to click everything together as quickly as we possible could. We tried to have some consistency with some previous combinations so that we could try to be as cohesive as possible. I really thought there was some fantastic cohesion out there but sometimes it’s just character more than cohesion. I think that was really evident today.”

That said, when the All Blacks trimmed a 30-8 lead to four points Schmidt, like everyone else, had flashbacks of what happened in November 2013 at the Aviva.

“You get nervous about that for sure but I just thought that young Joey (Carbery) came in and what a massive stage to have to enter on your test display. I thought there were a couple of wayward kicks but there were a couple of good kicks as well. To pin them down in the corner like that towards the end. We scored at the start of the second-half and at the end of the second half and I think that was crucial for us.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times