Joe Schmidt has more history to chase as this Ireland squad eyes a series victory in South Africa but even with an opening win in the bag he was preparing for the inevitable Springbok backlash in this weekend’s second Test.
Ireland’s 14-man heroics at Newlands on Saturday to secure a 26-20 win against the odds for Schmidt’s injury- depleted tourists marked a first victory in eight attempts on South African soil dating back to 1961. With two Tests remaining against new Springboks coach Allister Coetzee’s side there is now the chance to secure a further milestone as Ireland attempt to do what only France (1958), New Zealand (1996) and the British & Irish Lions, most recently in 1997, have previously managed and win a series here.
As Ireland flew north from Cape Town to Johannesburg with the Boks yesterday, Schmidt was already braced for a ferocious response from the hosts at altitude in Ellis Park this Saturday. Mention of a series win now so tantalisingly close still seemed premature to the New Zealand-born Irish boss.
“Did you have to bring that up?” Schmidt said with a smile. “To be honest, we haven’t looked that far ahead. We’re probably going to look at this game overnight and on the flight, probably a little bit quietly because we’re on the same flight as the Springboks who are travelling up to Joburg as well! It will be tough.
“I know we did it without a man but sometimes mentally, I’ve played in games where we’ve been down a man and played really well. I’ll never forget a game in Thomond Park with Clermont when we went down 11-3 after Jamie Cudmore had a slight disagreement with Paul O’Connell and he was off for the same length of time and we went 13-11 up. Munster scored with four minutes to go to win that game. I have seen it happen before and anyone who’s been around the game has seen that happen. I wouldn’t say it was an advantage but it did probably just cause them to take the foot off the accelerator and it also caused our guys to dig a little bit deeper.
With CJ Stander’s participation in the remaining two games in the balance following his controversial sending off 23 minutes into the opening Test, Schmidt was thankful not to have any immediate injury concerns to report post-match although the massive effort from those players left on the Newlands pitch to finish the job short-handed for 57 minutes will have taken a big physical toll. The Ireland management, though, will be reticent to make too many unenforced changes for the second Test. “The coaches will get together with the medics and we’ll make those decisions later in the week. Some of them might get made earlier if guys are fully fit, like the skipper (Rory Best) and those sort of guys.
“We’ll take the time to make sure guys are fully fit to make Tuesday’s training and on Thursday morning before training we’ll make sure that guys know exactly what their role is and then they’ll try to deliver that at training as preparation for what will be an unbelievably tough test for us.
“Our guys don’t play at altitude. A lot of these (SA) players come from (Johannesburg-based Super Rugby franchise) the Lions, I think it might be nine in the bigger squad that got selected so for us it’s going to be a huge challenge. I guess at the moment it’s too early to tell just exactly what we might do.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved