Paul O'Connell hails hospitalised boss Joe Schmidt
The coach had stomach pains and his staff were suffering palpitations. The second half of Ireland against Australia should have come with a health warning and those of a nervous disposition might have needed a Valium to survive the second half, but Ireland pulled through and closed the game out, to relief and easing of symptoms.
Not for Joe Schmidt, however, as Ireland's coach was rushed to hospital immediately after the game suffering from suspected appendicitis. Defensive coach, Les Kiss, confirmed that Schmidt had been unwell all day, but Paul O'Connell confirmed that the stoic New Zealander had not let his discomfort affect the team.
"We were aware he was sick because he was kind of stand-offish for most of the day, worried about passing on whatever he had, but if we hadn't been told, we wouldn't have known he was sick, that's they kind of guy he is," O'Connell said.
Ireland showed the kind of team they are in this game, learning from mistakes and improving on past performances. The heartbreak of conceding an injury time score to New Zealand 12 months ago and the frustration of letting South Africa cross the line at a late stage in the game earlier this month were summoned to prevent Australia getting in for the winning score. O'Connell was Gandalf-like in marshalling his defence and his refusal to let Australia pass.
"We are a lot happier with the way we finished the game, which is something we haven't done, we haven't finished games well," the Ireland and Munster colossus admitted. "To see quality they brought off the bench for the last 20 or 25 minutes and for us to be able to defend the way we did and not give them any outs was very satisfying. It's definitely a step forward from South Africa and France."
Learning to play until the final whistle was something Schmidt emphasised after the victory over South Africa and Kiss was pleased that the message has started to sink in.
"Against South Africa and New Zealand, we let in late tries and there were elements of our game we needed to improve on. Playing to the back end, playing to the 80th minute has been a big focus for us and the fact we managed to do that tonight was a testament to our front row and the tight five maintaining integrity," he said. "That gave us a chance to get behind the gain line and it was very pleasing. We all had heart palpitations when they brought Cooper and Beale on and were starting to play attractive and dangerous football, so to get off the line like we did was most pleasing."
Despite a perfect record in the Autumn Series and a Six Nations title, the players nor the management will be getting carried away with thoughts of Grand Slams and World Cup campaigns. The tired old cliche of one day at a time, so loathed by fans and commentators alike, is a mantra for this Ireland side, and a winning one at that. It is an approach they will not deviate from.
Previous performance really means nothing when the Six Nations come around," O'Connell insisted. "We were aware of that back in 2007 and I know I sound like a broken record, but I know exactly what will happen at our camps at Christmas and before the Six Nations. A lot of things will be addressed and big emphasis is put on learning and improving and being better at the things we were good at. I think that has worked really well for us so far, when you have that narrow focus on improving bit by bit, that's the way the coaching staff address it and that is how they will continue to work."
Kiss was singing from the same hymn sheet: "It's been an interesting year and a lot of good things have happened. To truly reflect on it, we know the reason we are in the position we are in now is that we take each day at a time."