JOE SCHMIDT HAS transformed this Ireland team, but even after guiding them to a Six Nations title in his first season in charge, the Kiwi refuses to accept the central credit.
The former school teacher instead chose to focus on the players and coaching staff around him in the aftermath of last night’s magnificent and nail-biting 22-20 victory over France in Paris.
“We have a very player-driven environment, I’m just one small cog. Les Kiss has done a fantastic job in defence, we’ve conceded just four tries throughout the championship.
That support has been superb for the players, then they drive the rest. They’re incredibly professional in everything they do – apart from right now. I don’t think they’re being professional at this exact moment!”
Clinching the tournament by winning such a high-quality game came as great satisfaction to Schmidt, with the ex-Leinster coach underlining that France had “played their best game” of the season at the Stade de France.
Schmidt also admitted that Ireland had enjoyed some luck throughout the 80 minutes, a welcome change in Paris. As concerned as ever about his players, the Ireland chief confirmed that Jonny Sexton would recover well from his heavy impact with Mathieu Bastareaud.
“He certainly got concussed, but the support of his neck was purely precautionary. He’s up and about and perfectly lucid now. It was nothing too serious, but he’ll have to go through the return-to-play protocols. He just caught an elbow in the tackle.”
The endgame at the Stade de France was more of a worry than any injury to an individual, with Schmidt admitting that he was as close to the edge of his seat as the rest of the Irish rugby nation.
There were brief and terrifying flashbacks to the last-gasp defeat to New Zealand in November during those closing minutes, but Ireland’s head coach underlined that Ireland managed to hold out a quality opposition.
“I was pretty worried; it was evident that the scrum was turning very quickly. We didn’t get the platform to clear our lines, and that made it very difficult. I felt we had the right strategy towards the end.
We got penalised from the ruck after a good line-out drive, that allowed them to get close enough to the line to start putting the pressure on. I thought our defence held well, even though they created an overlap.
“France turned up tonight and played a fantastic game. When you’ve got two high-level teams playing against each other, something’s going to give at some stage. For us to have held on, albeit with a forward pass towards the end, I’m just delighted with the end result.”
A joy shared by many.