Luke McGrath insists that Ireland’s World Cup quarter-final sticking point will not taint departing head coach Joe Schmidt’s legacy.
Leinster scrum-half McGrath was left with little choice but to salute back-to-back champions New Zealand’s sheer brilliance in the wake of Ireland’s 46-14 loss to the All Blacks in Tokyo.
Ireland slumped out of the World Cup at the quarter-final stage for the seventh time in nine tournaments, suffering a record tournament loss to Steve Hansen’s merciless All Blacks.
Captain Rory Best retired as a result of the defeat, with boss Schmidt stepping down as long since planned.
Schmidt led Ireland to a maiden stint at the top of the world rankings, their first two victories over New Zealand and three Six Nations titles, including the 2018 Grand Slam.
The former Clermont and Leinster boss could not break Ireland’s World Cup quarter-final curse though, and while that shortcoming will always rankle McGrath is adamant it will not leave a lasting shadow for the 54-year-old.
“The quarter-finals obviously are a sticking point for us, but we never once talked about that,” said McGrath.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re out at the quarter-final again, but you have to look and say they fully deserved to win, they were the much better team.
“That’s hugely frustrating for us. So we have to go back and look at where we can improve. And that will include small elements in every area. But we have to say full credit to New Zealand.
“It’s disappointing that we didn’t put in a performance to do justice to our fantastic support. But we’ll be back.”
Defence coach Andy Farrell will now replace Schmidt as head coach, and the former England man will have a big rebuilding job on his hands.
McGrath insisted Ireland are well capable of fixing their shortcomings however, with the half-back battling to strike a positive note for the future.
“It was gutting to lose that game, but it genuinely doesn’t taint their legacy,” said McGrath.
“It’s disappointing that this is how we say goodbye to Joe Schmidt and Rory Best. But we’ll look over it and move on from here.
“We didn’t talk about the quarter-finals, we just knew the All Blacks would be a massive challenge. The scoreline says they were the much better team on the day.
“We had to make a lot of tackles today, and that was tough on the lads at the end of the game.
“Every time they attacked they came away with points.
“It’s sad that Besty and Joe are leaving us, they were emotional in the changing rooms.
“They’ve been incredible for the whole squad, and they should be proud of their achievements for Irish rugby.
“They were just saying how proud they were to be part of this team.
“It’s a difficult time for them, but I’m sure when the reflect they will do so with time.”