Joe Schmidt couldn't explain it. The bad passes and the dropped balls and the missed kicks to touch. The Ireland head coach said he couldn't come up with a reason or an excuse and then, in almost the next breath, he spoke about a ‘short week’, niggles and uncertainty over naming the team.
He spoke about a flatness and a need to start well to build some confidence. We suspected that Ireland's confidence was brittle after such a tough 2019 but, listening to Schmidt, the full extent of the doubt in their minds was clear.
It's a deeply unsatisfactory ending for the Kiwi as he hangs up the whistle after almost ten years coaching in Ireland. The loss to Argentina in Cardiff four years ago clearly ate away at him. Add this to that and he will leave with two major regrets.
“You tend to carry your scars a lot more than your successes and those scars are deep,” he explained after the 46-14 loss to the All Blacks. “That's why I'm a little bit broken. I think when I get some distance to reflect on maybe 75 Test matches and we've won 74% of them, there's been some incredibly good days.
"I don't think they get washed away by two defeats in days where we are incredibly disappointed. I felt we had good reason four years ago when we lost our leadership before the quarter-final.
"Today, we just met a team who I think are number one in the world for a reason. If you're not on the money you're going to be incredibly disappointed and I am."
Not the performance or the result we wanted today.
Thank you to our incredible supporters. You’ve been there on the great days & we know you’ll help us rise again from the bad ones.October 19, 2019
Ireland's failure to make a World Cup semi-final on his watch will be a stain on his stint but he was again keen to remind everyone of the good times when asked why it is that men in green always come a cropper when it comes to the last eight.
“It’s a tough question. This group of players have achieved so much and that’s the one thing that remains and it continues to remain elusive so we’re incredibly disappointed. Heartbroken wouldn't be too far away from how I feel and how the players feel right now.
"Because right after the November series when we played the All Blacks last year we decided to make sure that this was our target. Maybe it consumed us a little bit and we got distracted from our game to game focus.”
It’s been a stunning decline to witness. Close to unbeatable in 2018, Ireland have been closer to appalling at different times in 2019. How?
🗣"I'd like to publicly acknowledge Rory & Joe Schmidt. Both of them have been instrumental in changing Ireland into a team that, earlier in the year, were No. 1 in the world."@AllBlacks coach Steve Hansen speaks after the quarter-final win over Ireland.#RWC2019 #NZLvIRE pic.twitter.com/z0YZRqSBsa— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 19, 2019
“There’s always a myriad of factors. I do think when you hit a height there is always a little bit of a drop because it’s not perfect. We work with human beings and inevitably when you’re reached a height there is, certainly not complacency, but there was an unfortunate, I suppose, aiming up for this tournament.”
“One of the things we tried to do was experiment a little bit in the Six Nations, give some responsibility to a few younger players, try to build the group. We tried to use the Six Nations as a platform for that because we had won three of the last five of them that this is really what we wanted.”
“And so that’s why it’s so devastating, that what we really wanted, we didn’t produce the performance that we needed on the night and there might be reasons for that with the short week that we had and the niggles that we had so that we weren’t quite as re-generated as we would have liked to have been.”
“That error count isn’t reach and that does make it incredibly hard. I don’t really have a reason for that, other than on the night there was always anxiety, there’ always guys who might over reach and as a result you don’t get the performance that you’re looking for.”