Wednesday 21 February 2018

A Joe Schmidt team always has a chance

'If the Kiwis were in any doubt, they now know Joe Schmidt is the best coach in the world.' Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
'If the Kiwis were in any doubt, they now know Joe Schmidt is the best coach in the world.' Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Joe Molloy

We're back home to rainy reality on Team Off the Ball, after unseasonably sunny days in Chicago. Dear Donald Trump - ever present on US television screens - boasted regularly about 'better numbers than Hillary' at their respective rallies.

Lest Donald lose all sense of perspective, Friday afternoon in Chicago was a timely reminder that nothing beats sport when it comes to mobilising numbers or capturing imaginations. Five million fans gathered across The Second City for the Cubs' World Series parade, making it the seventh largest gathering of humans in history. Cubs fans had been waiting 108 years.

Irish rugby arrived with 111 years of All-Black baggage; we wondered if there was something special in the air.

It turned out there was. But of course a Joe Schmidt team always has a big chance. Regardless of personnel, they now go into each Test with a plan, a belief in the plan and. crucially, a strong collective understanding of the plan. They react as a unit to various situations on the pitch, which is a feat of coaching excellence all in itself.

This is a group who beat South Africa in Cape Town, down to 14 men, without Sean O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony, Paul O'Connell or Johnny Sexton. The All Blacks at a green Soldier Field was far from impossible.

That said, it was one of the more bizarre atmospheres I've experienced. Soldier Field is a wonderful stadium. From a distance it looks like a spaceship. Renovated in 2002, the 'Chicago Tribune' re-christened it the "Eyesore by the Lake Shore". And maybe they have a point. It hovers somewhat incongruously next to the perfectly integrated Lake Michigan shoreline; all reclaimed land after the great fire of 1871.

This newer spaceship-like edifice sits within the stadium's original 1924 neoclassic columns. Whatever about from a distance, up close it works beautifully.

We were surrounded by Americans, very few of whom had consistent interest in the game. One American woman, in an All Black jersey, sat with her back to the action throughout chatting to friends behind her. It was hard to block out their conversation and all a bit surreal given the growing magnitude of events on the pitch.

Midway through the second half, she headed elsewhere to chat with other friends. "I'm so glad she's gone," I said to the guy next to me. He smiled, "Dude, that's my sister".

All in all, how bloody wonderful a weekend and if the Kiwis were in any doubt, they now know Joe Schmidt is the best coach in the world. Ireland have beaten South Africa and New Zealand this year.

With Australia to come in three weeks' time there is the distinct possibility of a southern Hemisphere clean-sweep. That's not to mention New Zealand looking for revenge in Dublin.

Interesting times.

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