Joe Schmidt believes Ireland will have to punch above their weight to knock out South Africa in what is now a likely quarter-final match-up at the World Cup in Japan.
Ireland stunned Scotland with a 27-3 bonus-point blitz in Yokohama, to start their Pool A campaign in fine fashion on Sunday.
James Ryan, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong and Andrew Conway all crossed as Ireland made good on all their pre-tournament pledges to hit form at the perfect time.
South Africa’s 23-13 loss to New Zealand on Saturday night puts Ireland on a last-eight collision course with the muscular Springboks, leaving head coach Schmidt insisting his side would be tipping the scales in a lighter category than their southern hemisphere counterparts.
“I thought it was a heavyweight contest last night; we might be light heavyweight or middleweight, I don’t know,” said Schmidt.
“And I think those physical demands are right up there.
“It was a super game last night, maybe slightly different conditions. But South Africa were bristling, and the All Blacks at times were brilliant.”
Ireland will roll on to face tournament hosts Japan next Saturday, with Schmidt refusing to dwell on a possible meeting with the Springboks for any length of time.
“This is a very different situation from last time in the World Cup where we were trying to build our way through the pool knowing that France was the highest-ranked opponent that we were going to have,” said Schmidt.
“We may be able to manage the squad perhaps, but watching Japan, they are a dangerous team and if they get some tempo then we might be back on the back foot.
“So we’ve just got to take things step by step and we won’t be talking too much about South Africa.
“If we can maybe get past Japan, I think you’re right, we’ve got Russia, Samoa – so hopefully at that stage we could potentially manage players a little.”
Ireland captain Best entered the tournament still fending off lingering questions over his stewardship, in the wake of a record 57-15 loss to England last month.
The evergreen 37-year-old hooker produced a vintage performance to dispel any remaining quibbles however, mixing brute force with balance set-piece work.
The Ulster stalwart admitted he wants this victory to kick-start Ireland’s challenge, and promised that boss Schmidt’s criticism would always trump anyone else’s.
“There were questions externally and it’s hard to get away from it; you talk about being in the bubble but probably the biggest frustration within was that we knew we had a lot more to give, we just weren’t getting it for whatever reason,” said Best.
“We were happy with our preparation in a lot of those games and we just didn’t execute.
“As players, maybe we didn’t put enough pressure on ourselves to execute the plan we were given; sometimes you need to draw a line in the sand.
“We were more disappointed than anyone in Ireland or the world with that England performance.
“We needed to be a lot better than that, and we are a lot better than that. Our potential is a lot better than that. So it was pleasing the way we played in the next two Wales games and into today.
“There are always going to be critics and I think the constructive criticism we get from Joe and the rest of the coaches is probably tougher than anything. That’s how you learn and get better.”
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