Thursday 19 September 2019

'We're lucky with that support and that was evident with Rory's ovation' - Schmidt's fond Lansdowne farewell

Next stop Japan as Ireland coach goes out on top of the world

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

After his last game at Lansdowne Road as Ireland coach, Joe Schmidt came out with a line which surely no one in the room believed for a moment. "I didn't even realise we were number one (ranked side in the world) until after the game," he said following Ireland's 19-10 defeat of Wales.

Given that it's a racing certainty the Ireland coach knew what referee Mathieu Raynal had for his pre-match meal yesterday morning, and how it might affect his decisions-making, it's more than likely Schmidt knew every detail of every permutation around this game.

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His agenda extended no further than a winning performance that enhanced the mood, and as near as possible to a clean bill of health. Certainly the crowd seemed happy with the win, earned on the back of an aggressive short game in the second half from the home team.

As for injuries, Keith Earls - on his first run out of the season - went off with damage to a quad. And Cian Healy didn't return for the second half having been replaced by Dave Kilcoyne, who went on to have a good game.

Warren Gatland, also on his last lap with Wales in this neck of the woods, was less complimentary about Ireland.

"We were reasonably positive," he said of his own team. "Ireland went back to what they were traditionally good at, 85 per cent off nine, and using Bundee Aki. It's been effective for them. When they play that way, we've been successful coming really hard at those one-off runners and stopping those collisions with good discipline."

This time they were not successful, and much of the second half was played out with Wales on the back foot against wave after wave of Irish runners close-in. It was enough to seal a happy send-off for Schmidt and captain Rory Best.

"Relief is the primary emotion," Schmidt said. "The boys seem in good spirits and hopefully we're unscathed. It's the performance we're proud of.

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"We made 40 tackles in the first quarter but then built our way into the game. It wasn't necessarily pretty to watch. The World Cup is huge so your focus is on the next game rather than the past. It was good to take the emotion out of it.

"I was here with my family for the first game of rugby when the ground was renovated. It's phenomenal for such an open stadium that it generates so much noise. We're lucky with that support and that was evident with Rory's ovation."

Best received a rapturous ovation when he was withdrawn in the second half. "This place is incredibly special," said the 37-year-old. "There have been some wonderful memories, some you use to make yourself better.

"It's nice for my mum and dad, my wife and family to hear the reception I received. It feels like you've done more things right than wrong over the years."

Scotland, Ireland's World Cup opponents in a fortnight, wrapped up their warm-up series with a win over Georgia in Murrayfield on Friday night. Their injury list included Jonny Gray and Blade Thomson with hamstring strains, Jamie Richie with a facial injury, and HIAs for Blair Kinghorn and Ben Toolis.

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