Sunday 17 November 2019

Coach struggles to explain decline and fall of error-prone side

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt during the match. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt during the match. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

A heartbroken Joe Schmidt said Ireland's World Cup hammering at the hands of New Zealand will scar him long after he takes leave of this job.

The Kiwi head coach has overseen his last match in charge of this team, an error-strewn effort that saw them fail to land a blow on the All Blacks who march on the meet England in Yokohama next week.

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Schmidt was left to reflect on Ireland's decline in form since their win over the same opposition a year ago and he suggested he and his team took their eye off the ball by becoming "consumed" by their desire to reach a semi-final for the first time.

Ironically, that led to them suffering a record World Cup defeat at the hands of the champions, beating their previous low of their last quarter-final to Argentina.

"I think there's always a myriad of factors," Schmidt said of the 2019 decline. "I do think when you hit a height there is always a little bit of a drop because it's not perfect. We work with human beings and inevitably when you're reached a height there is, certainly not complacency, but there was an unfortunate, I suppose, aiming up for this tournament.

"One of the things we tried to do was experiment a little bit in the Six Nations, give some responsibility to a few younger players, try to build the group. We tried to use the Six Nations as a platform for that because we had won three of the last five of them that this is really what we wanted.

"And so that's why it's so devastating, that what we really wanted, we didn't produce the performance that we needed on the night and while there might be reasons for that, with the short week that we had and the niggles that we had, so that we weren't quite as re-generated as we would have liked to have been.

"That error count does make it incredibly hard. I don't really have a reason for that, other than on the night there was always anxiety. There are always guys who might over reach and as a result you don't get the performance that you're looking for."

Schmidt was asked to explain Ireland's missed tackles and their record of bowing out before the business end of World Cups.

"It's tough question," he said. "This group of players have achieved. The one thing that remains (World Cup) and it continues to remain elusive, so we're incredibly disappointed.

"Heartbroken wouldn't be too far away from how I feel and how the players feel right now. Because right after the November series when we played the All Blacks last year, we decided to make sure that this was our target. Maybe it consumed us a little bit and we got distracted from our game-to-game focus.

"But the tackle misses, when you're up against a team like the All Blacks - they have power, they have elusive runners that if you are not in a position to make the tackle or you get slightly wrong-footed, you do slip off tackles.

"And when you have got wave after wave of them coming and then you finally get relief and you look to put the ball down the field and you end up giving it straight back to them, you are straight back under the pump.

"I do think that mentally it takes a toll on players when they don't quite get to have that belief that we're going to get an opportunity with the ball. The only time we got into the All Black 22 in the first half was right at the end of the half.

"I wasn't quite sure what the decision was for, with Peter O'Mahony, but that was disappointing because the penalty then gets turned around and again you lose that oxygen and belief to try and get a little bit of a footing back into the game."

Schmidt now leaves the role and plans to finish coaching. The Tokyo loss will sting for a long time, but he says he will ultimately look back on his time in charge with fondness. "You tend to carry your scars a lot more than your successes and those scars are deep," he said. "That's why I'm a little bit broken.

"I don't really have an excuse for it or a reason for it. On the night, we can't afford to give the All Blacks access points like we did. They're good enough to win games without us inviting them in and that was incredibly disappointing," he said.

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