Tuesday 24 October 2017

Schmidt full of praise for his side's physical courage

Aisling Crowe

Joe Schmidt hailed the courage of his team in the face of the extreme physical challenge the Irish faced against the formidable size of the South African team. Although he relished victory it was the physical bravery of his side that had him smiling in the Aviva Stadium last night.

"I don't think that you can ask for too much more from a courage perspective. I felt that defensively in that first half the amount of effort and endeavour that the players demonstrated was superb."

South Africa's tactic was to eschew kicks at goal in search of tries, particularly during the opening half of the match but the Irish defence ws defiant in its resistance and that, for Schmidt, was the foundation on which Ireland's only fifth ever success over the Springboks was built.

He added: "For such a big team to give up three points and look for five or seven I think the determination the players showed not to allow them to get that probably built confidence for us and allowed us to keep them out for that entire half when they had five platforms to have a crack at us. A number of players who stood up physically to what was always going to be a tough assignment."

Bryan Habana's late try prevented Ireland from achieving a record victory over South Africa and although not as late as the All Blacks' try which broke Irish hearts here 12 months ago, it still wiped some of the lustre from the success for the manager and captain Paul O'Connell.

Schmidt wants his team to keep concentrated until the final whistle and the concession of another sloppy try at the death disappointed him. He explained that he wants this Irish team to gain a reputation for playing to the death and that slips like yesterday's one are not acceptable in his performance-driven style.

Despite the success there is plenty to occupy the minds of players and management alike in the lead up to next weekend's Test against Georgia, but according to O'Connell, the desire to improve is one with which the whole squad is consumed. "The focus is on ourselves and improving from week to week and we really enjoy doing that. The reviews are tough but guys enjoy trying to make marginal gains from week to week. We will be trying to improve a lot on the things we got wrong today and there will be a big focus on ourselves," he reiterated.

The importance of each member of the squad was a theme both men returned to as Rhys Ruddock stepped up from the bench to take a starting place and a try while Tommy O'Donnell handled the late call up to the match day 23 with ease, as a result of the virus Chris Henry was suffering from, which Schmidt only became aware at 8.30 yesterday morning.

His avialabity for the Georgia game will become clearer tomorrow evening, as will the situation for Jared Payne, who limped off with a foot sprain. An x-ray last night was clear but he will undergo scans tomorrow morning to assess the extent of the damage.

So much has changed for Ireland since last season's Six Nations triumph, but Schmidt was full of praise for the core strength of his squad.

"We did have a good spine coming into the game but probably slipped a couple of discs with Rory Best and Chris Henry missing out. The nine-ten axis was superb today, gave us the intelligence to drive our game on. I take my hat off to Mike Ross because he had limited opportunities to prepare himself and to get through 73 or 74 minutes was a smashing effort and his tackle count was high.

"At the same time, four of our seven backs were different to the Six Nations but during that championship we saw Rhys coming off bench, Jack (McGrath) and Sean (Cronin) too, so for them to come into the starting pack wasn't as big a transformation as some people think, but we have things to work on."

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