Saturday 21 September 2019

Cian Tracey chooses Ireland's five greatest days under Joe Schmidt

Joe Schmidt
Joe Schmidt
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Joe Schmidt has brought Irish Rugby to dizzying new heights with the expectation that even more great days lie ahead next year in both the Six Nations and the World Cup.

The Ireland head coach has set new standards for Irish sport in general and along the way has set broken several records.

Schmidt, who has confirmed that he will step away from coaching following next year's World Cup, has used 99 players and capped 54 new internationals over the 62 games that he has been in charge to date.

He was racked up a hugely impressive 74pc win ratio, while Ireland have also attained their highest ever world ranking (No.2) under his watch.

Here we take a look back at five special days that Joe Schmidt has masterminded.

(1) Ireland claim first win on South African soil - South Africa 20 Ireland 26, June 11, 2016

Head coach Joe Schmidt, pictured celebrating Ireland’s first Test victory over South Africa with captain Rory Best. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

On the back of winning two consecutive Six Nations titles, Ireland ramped up their stature on the world stage by beating South Africa in their own back yard for the first time.

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They did it against the odds too after CJ Stander was sent off in the 23rd minute, leaving Ireland to heroically battle it out to secure a historic victory.

Robbie Henshaw's sin-binning didn't help matters either as Ireland had to dig deep with 13 men for 10 minutes, but ultimately, they found a way.

A Jared Payne try coupled with eights points from the boot of Paddy Jackson left the tourists on level terms at 13 apiece at the break.

A Conor Murray try early in the second half gave Ireland an ideal start and from there, they will able to withstand the barrage of late pressure as Jackson kicked the crucial penalty with three minutes left on the clock.

While Schmidt will still look back at the series as one that got away, there was no doubting that Ireland benefited from beating the Springboks before several fringe players were blooded in a difficult environment with one eye on the long road ahead.

(2) Ireland finally beat the All Blacks for the first time – Ireland 40 New Zealand 29, November 5, 2016

Joe Schmidt and Simon Zebo share a smile after the historic victory over New Zealand in Chicago Picture: Sportsfile

111 years was a long wait but Ireland eventually helped eased the painful memories of the past by stunning New Zealand in Chicago.

In what was the most complete performance to date under Schmidt as Ireland dominated the All Blacks from start to finish and five months after beating the 'Boks, sent shockwaves around the world.

The world champions were missing their totemic second-row pairing Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick and Ireland took full advantage at the set-piece.

Leading 25-8 at the break thanks to tries from Jordi Murphy, Stander and Murray, Schmidt's side were in dreamland as they executed the Kiwi's game-plan to perfection.

With the tantalising prospect of a first win over the All Blacks in 29 attempts hanging before them, there was no let up in the second half as Simon Zebo scored early before the inevitable Black lash.

Like they had done in Cape Town however, Ireland were able to see out the victory with Robbie Henshaw's well-worked try off a set-piece putting the icing on the cake on what was an unforgettable day in the Windy City.

(3) Ireland win a third Grand Slam – England 15 Ireland 24, March 17, 2018

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt ahead of the NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship match between England and Ireland at Twickenham last March

A Grand Slam sealed by convincingly beating England at Twickenham, it doesn't get much better.

The writing had perhaps been on the wall ever since Johnny Sexton's stunning 'Le Drop' at the Stade de France as Ireland built up a huge amount of momentum from that last-gasp victory over France.

Ireland had only ever won two previous Grand Slams so the players were well aware of the pressure that was on their shoulders coming into the game, but they thrived under it.

On a bitterly cold day in London, Irish supporters turned Twickenham into a sea of green as the 'Fields of Athenry' regularly rang around the stadium.

On the pitch, the players delivered too as Jacob Stockdale broke the Six Nations try-scoring record by pouncing for his seventh try in five games.

Garry Ringrose had already gotten over the whitewash before Stander scored what was arguably the best try that Ireland have scored under Schmidt.

A stunning set-piece move off a lineout that involved Tadhg Furlong as a play-maker and Bundee Aki then putting Stander over, Ireland were on their way.

England never really looked like threatening to turn Ireland's dream into a nightmare as they were deservedly crowned Grand Slam champions for the first time under Schmidt.

(4) Ireland seal first series win in Australia since 1979 – Australia 16 Ireland 20, June 23, 2018

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt ahead of the victory at Allianz Stadium in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Having gotten their Australian tour off to a losing start, Ireland stormed back to win the second and third Tests to get another considerable monkey off their backs and in doing so, end their most successful season on the perfect note.

It had been 39 years since Ireland won a series in Australia and just as they had done in Cape Town and Chicago, they exorcised some of the past demons

They had to fight for everything that they got down under too. Stockdale's yellow card left them to scrap for a tough 10 minutes during a first half in which there was very little to separate the teams.

Israel Folau suffered the same fate as Stockdale later in the half, and he resumed for the restart but Stander powered over for a 43rd minute try that knocked the stuffing out of the Wallabies.

They eventually fought back however, and it wasn't until Sexton kicked a penalty two minutes from time that they had any kind of breathing space.

A frenetic finish to a bruising tour at the end of a monumental season.

(5) Ireland see off the All Blacks at home for the first time – Ireland 16 New Zealand 9, November 17, 2018

Steve Hansen and Joe Schmidt share a joke prior to Ireland's famous win at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

The question was posed; how could Ireland possibly build on their greatest ever season? Well, beating the All Blacks at home for the first time was as good a start as anyone could have wished for.

That they did so in such a ruthlessly clinical manner had Schmidt's fingerprints all over it.

If the win at Solider Field two years had an asterisk beside it due to the calibre of locks New Zealand were missing, they were fully locked and loaded at the Aviva Stadium and still left with the tail between their legs.

Any notion that a fear factor still exists when facing the All Blacks was ended as Ireland held their nerve to create more history.

Just like it was in Twickenham, the foundations for the victory were laid by a Joe Schmidt master power play and to their credit, his players executed it to perfection.

Again, it came off a lineout but this time, it was a switch play back down the short side for Stockdale who played an audacious chip and chase that any of the famous Kiwi wingers from down through the years would have been proud off.

In typical New Zealand fashion, they never relented in their pressure towards the end as memories of Ryan Crotty's last-gasp try in 2013 came flooding back.

The crowd believed this time however and so too did the players, who fed off the home supporters' ferocious energy in the dying stages. The All Blacks threw the kitchen sink at Ireland, who never really looked like allowing them break through.

Lessons had well and truly been learned since 2013 as Schmidt's men signalled their intent as serious contenders for next year's World Cup.

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