Sunday 18 August 2019

Ireland make light of travel traumas

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Joe Schmidt has hailed his side's capacity to thrive in adversity as they overcame a slew of injuries and a delay in getting to Sydney's Allianz Stadium to beat Australia and claim a first series win over one of the traditional Southern Hemisphere big three since 1979.

The Six Nations champions held on for a 20-16 clincher after a nail-biting 80 minutes at the end of a thrilling series. Having lost Dan Leavy, Garry Ringrose, Iain Henderson and Andrew Conway to injury early in the week, Sean Cronin pulled out on the eve of the game with a hamstring injury and Peter O'Mahony was forced off with a head injury after 31 minutes of an absorbing contest.

Those issues were compounded by delays in getting into the stadium that brought back memories of the defeat to Scotland at the start of the 2017 Six Nations when the bus got stuck in traffic.

This time, a LGBTQIA+ demonstration in Sydney city centre meant the bus had to take an alternative route to the stadium and despite the presence of a police escort, they landed at the stadium more than 20 minutes behind schedule.

Before the game Schmidt expressed concern that his side would be knocked "off kilter", but they managed to perform despite the disruption. And he was delighted with the character they showed.

"It took just over 13 minutes to get here yesterday and just over 30 today," he said after the game. "It's happened to us before, and we kind of got knocked off our stride and went down 21-5 or something at half-time against Scotland a couple of years ago.

"It's good for the team; there are always things that are going to come at you from different sides. Sometimes that sort of thing happens, you have got to be able to take it in your stride. Most teams have a real rhythm in how they build to a game; when that gets disrupted it can be a little bit of a distraction. But it's the first time in the series that we've scored the first points. So, we got off to not too bad a start.

"(The late changes) just unsettle the rhythm a bit going into a game, but it has happened to us on a few occasions and it is one of the things that's testament to depth in certain positions that we have that guys step up and do a good job.

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"Niall Scannell came in, Rob Herring came in . . . they were both very good in Melbourne as well. They very quickly put their hands up and toiled away.

"It is just part of a process that we'd like to be able to streamline - if we lose someone that someone else can step up."

Schmidt was delighted with the way his team dug in to produce a winning finish to a historic season. And he said that the success in Australia was "up there" with anything they'd achieved over the course of a memorable campaign.

"It's big for us because we don't do that very often - it was 39 years ago [since 1979]," he said. "I did have a good chat to a couple of the guys who did it last time. Ollie Campbell is a guy I've got huge respect for. We had a bit of a chat about it. He's such an enthusiast and his confidence was brimming that we could do it. I didn't quite share the confidence at the time because I knew how tough it was going to be and that was evident in those final minutes, not just tonight but last weekend as well.

"They were coming in waves and we managed to keep them out. I feel that potentially we were a little bit fortuitous and the margins are so fine. I didn't think we were far off in Brisbane either. It's been a fantastic series."

Aussie back-row David Pocock was magnanimous after the defeat, telling RTÉ: "For us, it's a very disappointing finish. But credit to Ireland. It was a real arm wrestle. They showed really good game management, built the scoreboard pressure. And in the end, we weren't good enough to finish it. So, credit to them on the win and also the series win.

"Both teams were looking to use the ball and build pressure. Hopefully, people who watched it enjoyed what the teams were doing. The support we've had . . . there's a lot of Irish, either living over here or who have made the trip over, and that adds to the occasion . . . it's incredible playing in front of these crowds and we don't take it for granted."

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