Friday 20 September 2019

Schmidt keen to spread the love on this 'special night'

Ireland 16 New Zealand 9

Feek Power: Greg Feek scrum was a dominant force throughout and put the All Blacks on the back foot. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Feek Power: Greg Feek scrum was a dominant force throughout and put the All Blacks on the back foot. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

If he does choose to leave in a year's time, Joe Schmidt will do so with an unrivalled collection of moments to savour. Given his memory is photographic, he'll be able to savour them for some time.

He's not one to dwell on the past, but on Saturday night he allowed himself to live in the moment. Asked about his future, he kept the focus on his team, while hailing his support staff and the crowd.

As the conductor of the orchestra, Schmidt gets to take a bow, but he rarely indulges - often staying in the shadows as the music-makers take the applause.

His stock is sky-high and the Aviva Stadium support are only shy of begging him to stay, but he is firmly of a mind to deflect the praise to those he feels deserve it after leading the team to another famous win.

"I get a bit of reflected pride because I watch them work, I work with them and it's nice to be close to people who know how to get the best out of themselves," he said when asked if he takes personal pride in the performance.

"Even working with the strength and conditioning people, the medical people, the coaching staff, the analysis staff.

"You know, Merv Murphy and Vinny Hammond (analysts), they never get a mention, but they do a phenomenal job in pinpointing weaknesses and trying to make sure that we maximise strengths.

"It's pretty collective when we put our heads together so, you know, I'd love to say I'm a really important part of it, but it is very much a machine, a consensus."

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Earlier, he'd been asked if he felt any mixed emotions as a dual citizen of New Zealand and Ireland and, while he repeated the line that he's an All Blacks fan when they play other teams, he said the closeness of his relationships in this Irish team means he is clear-eyed on these nights.

He has played the country of his birth four times and won two. This one, he said, was a cut above the win in Soldier Field.

"The win in Chicago probably took us a little bit by surprise in that it had been a limited week," he said. "It's a bit special at home and it was a bit special tonight because of what happened in 2013, because of how the crowd were.

"I thought the crowd were unbelievable and if you need a 16th man, there's not many better places to go than Aviva Stadium, Dublin."

The win was built on the players commitment to Andy Farrell's defensive system and the fitness programme implemented by Jason Cowman.

Greg Feek's scrum was again a dominant force, while Simon Easterby worked with Devin Toner and Rory Best to fix the lineout. Even Ireland's skills, coached by Richie Murphy, stood up to the All Blacks gold standard.

"They're fitter, so whoever is doing their conditioning work needs a pat on the back," Steve Hansen said. "Their defence is great. Both teams last night defended for long periods really, really well, so Andy is a great defence coach.

"Their scrum was good, it took us a while to get on top of that. So everybody in the team is doing their bit and Joe is obviously leading it very well. They've become a team that believes in themselves and are priding themselves on how they're playing.

"It's their turn at the moment so we'll see how they cope with that."

After such a tight game, both teams pointed to the New Zealand chances that came and went during a ferocious second-half.

Before his try-scoring heroics, Jacob Stockdale could easily have been the villain when he was charged down by Kieran Read who had Jack Goodhue on his shoulder to run it in, but couldn't pick the ball up.

Stockdale's superb score gave them room to breathe on the scoreboard at 16-6, Read's decision to go for points with a 10-point defecit was an admission that a draw was a decent result.

Peter O'Mahony made two miracle plays after the try, Keith Earls managed to scythe Rieko Ioane down with help from Kieran Marmion and Josh van der Flier somehow caught Beauden Barrett as he accelerated towards the line.

Ireland had their chances to close it out, but with Best and Toner gone the lineout wobbled and it all came down to an eerie repeat of the 2013 end-game - albeit with a draw the best the All Blacks could muster.

Brodie Retallick, out-played by James Ryan all night, dropped the ball and the Aviva Stadium erupted. Special indeed.

IRELAND - R Kearney (J Larmour 66); K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton (J Carbery 77), K Marmion (L McGrath 59); C Healy (J McGrath 52), R Best (capt) (S Cronin 65), T Furlong (A Porter 65); D Toner (I Henderson 62), J Ryan; P O'Mahony, J van der Flier, CJ Stander.

NEW ZEALAND - D McKenzie (R Mo'unga 56); B Smith, J Goodhue, R Crotty (A Lienert-Brown 62), R Ioane; B Barrett, A Smith (TJ Peranara 58); K Tu'inukuafe (O Tuungafasi 47), C Taylor (D Coles 47), O Franks (N Laulala 47); B Retallick, S Whitelock; L Squire (S Barrett 32), A Savea (M Todd 74), K Read (capt).

Ref - W Barnes (England)

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