Thursday 23 November 2017

Schmidt frustrated after bruising battle

Johnny Sexton is an injury worry for Ireland
Johnny Sexton is an injury worry for Ireland
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

One game to go in this four-Test Guinness series and further evidence of the scarily attritional nature of rugby. Three players have various concussion issues - Rob Kearney, Robbie Henshaw and CJ Stander - while Johnny Sexton has another hamstring strain - this time his right as opposed to the left, which has been the most recent problem.

After what was a brutal contest, of the highest quality, it will be interesting to see what World Rugby make of it in a week where they issued a reminder that head shots were top of their agenda.

"Look it's eh - they're a very physical side," captain Rory Best said. "You know that whenever you sign Kiwis into your club side that they hit, and they hit hard. Obviously there were a few - the first one on Robbie (Henshaw) they deemed that to be head on head and not shoulder on head. You have to try and roll with those sort of decisions.

"Obviously anything World Rugby can do to make the game safer, and to make people at home - I'm a parent myself and you don't like to see people going off on stretchers. That's something they're clamping down on and it's commendable that they're doing it and continue to do that."

The injuries forced Joe Schmidt into changes he had never wanted to make at that stage, all coming well inside the first half-hour.

"One of the things we wanted to show today was that we're building a bit of depth and I thought some of those guys (the replacements) really stood up," he said.

"Now are they fully competent and ready to go? Potentially not, but what better way to try to build something than to put them up against the best in the world and for them to navigate their way through a match.

"We lost a bit of shape and got quite static on attack - they came at us and put us under real pressure, so we're frustrated.

"When you pour so much into a game and at the end of it you don't get the result? At 14-9 I thought that we were a chance, I really did, with some of the guys coming off the bench: Iain Henderson, Cian Healy, Seán Cronin, guys who know how to contribute at that level. And I felt we dropped a couple of balls very close to their line. Those are the fine margins."

One of those was Ireland's ability to keep the All Blacks under pressure, as Best pointed out.

"I think we were a little bit disappointed that - the big thing that came out of Chicago was we had attacked with and without the ball, but when we look back at that, either tomorrow night or Monday, we'll feel that we didn't attack them enough," he said. "We had a calm talking-to from the coaches and came out with a bit more intent in the second half."

It meant that the game wasn't safe for New Zealand until Malakai Fekitoa's second try, late in the game. At which point their coach Steve Hansen could relax a bit.

"After Chicago I thought they (Ireland) could go one or two ways: either their feet would come off the floor or they could really dig in to get the resolve to do it again," he said. "I think we saw out there tonight they dug in and got the resolve.

"They're disappointed that they didn't win there today and I think that's a great thing for Irish rugby, that there's a willingness and a desire to be better all the time when you hear them talking or read them in the paper - that's a sign of a good team that's going places.

"I think if they play with the same character they showed against us they'll just get better and better and be harder to beat."

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