Joe Schmidt believes Ireland’s sensational victory over the All Blacks has “poked the bear” ahead of their rematch with the world champions in Dublin on Saturday.
Ireland produced a stunning performance in Chicago nine days ago when they ran in five tries to become only the fifth side to score 40 points or more against New Zealand. It was their first victory over the All Blacks in 29 attempts dating back to 1905 and Kiwi ire will be further stoked by the way their 18-match winning streak was brought to a shuddering halt in their 40-29 defeat at Soldier Field.
Schmidt is understandably expecting a backlash at a sold-out Aviva Stadium when he believes New Zealand, who hammered Italy 68-10 in Rome on Saturday, will be much sharper than they were in Chicago and fired up by the unwanted tag of being the first All Blacks players to lose to Ireland.
“I’ve massive respect for Kieran Read, I spoke to him briefly after the game, I’m not sure that he’s captained a losing All Blacks side and I know that it hurt,” Schmidt said following Ireland’s 52-21 win over Canada on Saturday.
“To a degree, I think we’ve poked the bear. I’ve no doubt that they will come out mentally. I don’t think they will be any more aggressive than they normally are but I just think they’ll be sharper and to be honest, there were probably a couple of times at 33-29 where they put balls down or we were in trouble. Games swing on those and so while we got our nose in front the scoreline was a lot closer and I think anyone there would have known that.
“Certainly with 10 minutes to go, even 20 minutes to go, they had enough time to get in front of us. Half of it was probably us working really hard not to let them but half of it was they probably slipped a couple of things that is uncustomary for them. I’ve no doubt that they’ll work on those things through the week. If everything they do sticks we’ll find them very very hard to contain.”
Yet Schmidt’s men will also have plenty of motivation not to be regarded as one-hit wonders. In June, they became the first Ireland side to win a Test in South Africa, winning the first Test in Cape Town, only to let slip a sizable lead in the second in Johannesburg and then losing the series with defeat in the Port Elizabeth decider. Which means there is still unfinished business this weekend.
“We would love to back it up,” the head coach said. “Within the group we had real frustration coming off that South African tour because we felt that we had missed an opportunity. In a Test match, you’re 26-10 up in Ellis Park, you’re not going to get too many chances like that in your life and in Port Elizabeth again we held the lead and we weren’t far away at the end of the game.
“I felt we probably didn’t get a few decisions that day that were fairly pivotal, but those sort of things happen and you’ve got to get above that.
“It was no different the last time we played the All Blacks here, we felt that if we’d maybe done a little bit better with the ball we did have maybe we wouldn’t have been too far away from them. But, yeah, we don’t tend to look that far back. We are looking forward and we just want to make sure whatever we put together for next week gives us the best chance possible of trying to back up what we did in Chicago.”
In the wake of victory at Soldier Field, Schmidt had spoken of the performance being a benchmark and on Saturday he accepted that rather than equalling it, Ireland would need to improve again if they were to beat the All Blacks for a second time in three weeks.
“I think you’ve always got to be better. I don’t think the All Blacks were as good as they had been.
“Watching them in the Rugby Championship, it was a daunting enough task. They were phenomenal.
“And even our game, at one stage they got 14 points in four minutes. You switch off for incredibly small windows and they put a hole in you so quickly.
And that can be (prop) Charlie Faumuina just showing and going and getting a 30-metre break and linking up with someone in behind you, they are multi-faceted players across the board and they have got some great power and pace.
“So, you combine that and you know that it’s a tough battle anytime you are going to be playing them. We’ve only matched up to them twice in my three years and we’d hate to drop our standard of being competitive with them in those two fixtures.”
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