'We all know who the favourites are' - Joe Schmidt plays down world rankings ahead of World Cup

Joe Schmidt has played down the significance of Ireland's rise to the summit of the world rankings - for the first time - less than two weeks out from the Rugby World Cup.

The side's 19-10 defeat of Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon secured the No.1 spot for the first time in the nations's history. Wales had already held the honour in this warm-up period, relieving the All Blacks of the tag for the first time in a decade.

“I didn't realise we were until the interview after the game, that's how far away from our thoughts it was,” said the Ireland head coach.

“It's a label and it's great to get. It's the first time we have been in that position. We have been lucky enough to tick off a few firsts with this group but it's not that relevant to anyone. We all know who the favourites are in this World Cup and it's not us.”

New Zealand didn't need to be mentioned by name but Schmidt went there anyway, referencing the Kiwi's 92-7 destruction of Tonga this weekend as further proof of just how dangerous the defending champions will be in Japan.

Ireland, ranking aside, look to be in a good place again having delivered their most complete performance in this calendar year, even if opposing coach Warren Gatland claimed, and not for the first time, that Ireland hadn't brought any expansive stuff to the table.

This was Schmidt's and captain Rory Best's last game at the Aviva Stadium. The coach takes a sabbatical from rugby after the World Cup while the captain retires and the former offered the word 'relief' when asked for his primary emotion.

'We all know who the favourites are' - Joe Schmidt plays down world rankings ahead of World Cup

That's understandable given the less-than-stellar performances of his side through 2019 to date. This was clearly much better with three tries to one getting the job done against a similarly strong Welsh side.

In the first quarter we had to make 40 tackles and we just couldn't hang on to the ball but we did well defensively and built our way into the game. It wasn't necessarily pretty to watch but it was nice to get that result.

Schmidt also provided a positive update on Keith Earls after the Munster wing departed with a leg injury. Earls was playing his first game of the season due to an ongoing tendonitis problem in the knee but he came off with just 53 minutes played against Wales in Dublin.

His refusal to avail of a motorised stretcher was some succour to those looking on and Schmidt calmed any remaining fears after this 19-10 win when asked specifically about the veteran back's well-being.

The former Leinster coach told RTE that “we think he will be alright”, pointing out that the plan was always to give the player in and around 50 minutes anyway. The Kiwi was a tad more circumspect, however, in his main press conference shortly after.

“He's walking around okay. Those sorts of things you just have to wait and see if its okay. Yeah, potentially he could have played on. He feels like he could have but there's no way in a game like that that you keep the player on. Once he cools down completely we'll have a look at him.”

Asked for the nature of the injury, Schmidt suggested that it may have been a “whack” to the player's quad or just above the knee and that it had made Earls “uncomfortable”. The hope is that he will still be good to board the flight to Japan this Wednesday.


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