IRELAND COACH JOE SCHMIDT paid tribute to his players following the Six Nations champions’ pulsating 22-20 win over France in Paris. The New Zealander, in his first season in charge as Irish head coach, spoke of Brian O’Driscoll leaving Test rugby on a high before turning his thoughts to the future.
Schmidt admitted to RTÉ’s Clare McNamara, after the two-point win, that he was worn out by the occasion. He declared, “The fairytale continued right until the end for the magic man. I’m just delighted for him.”
Referring to the tense finalé, which saw Ireland hold out for the final 18 minutes, Schmidt said the experience was unbearable. “I’m not sure I can last too long doing this sort of job. The heart just about gave up. We showed incredible discipline throughout the tournament and it was a credit to the players that they maintained that discipline right to the finish.
“To have that slender lead, I thought, across the match, we actually deserved to win. It was three tries to two and we scored a couple of great tries. In the context of the tournament, I didn’t care how we won as long as we got our noses in front, to be honest.”
In a typically holistic manner, Schmidt gave mention to the Ulster players, such as Tommy Bowe and Paddy Jackson, who performed well in last night’s win over Scarlets and ‘kept up the competition for spots’. There were ‘mammoth performances’ across the board, he added, before reserving singular praise for try-scoring winger Andrew Trimble. Asked about a replacement for O’Driscoll, Schmidt commented:
We’re going to start searching right now. The sleeves will get rolled up and we are going to watch the next two months of really competitive stuff. The provinces are in great nick and the likes of Robbie Henshaw, Darren Cave, who’ve been serving their apprenticeship with us, will continue working really hard. I’m sure we’ll get someone to fill his boots but their feet might be a bit smaller.”
For old times’ sake, French TV asked retiring outside centre Brian O’Driscoll if he would consider staying on for another year. He confirmed he would be stepping away from the sport, a sport he lit up for the past 15 years, at the season’s end. Emotion had caught up with the 35-year-old by the time McNamara interviewed him. He paid credit to his teammates, Schmidt and joked that it was farcical that he finished his Test career with successive man-of-the-match accolades. As the interview wrapped up, O’Driscoll needed a moment as he held tears back.
O’Driscoll’s focus will soon turn to Leinster’s league and Heineken Cup run-in but he will celebrate in the City of Lights this evening and long into Sunday morning.