Joe Schmidt’s mission statement: You’ve got to try to get better

If Ireland were not quite so driven to succeed, every member of the camp from Joe Schmidt down might take a moment’s pause to appreciate all they have achieved this season.

That is quite a big “if” and a seriously unlikely “might”.

Following a third Six Nations title in five years and a first Grand Slam since 2009 by bridging a 39-gap to a Test win in Australia and then claiming a first three-Test series victory over a Southern Hemisphere big gun would be reason enough to celebrate.

It is safe to assume the touring party did indeed savour the moment late into the Sydney night following their 20-16 series-deciding win over the Wallabies on Saturday.

Yet it will not take too long before Irish noses are back facing the grindstone and head coach Schmidt is demanding maximum effort all over again.

For him and his squad, this season’s unparalleled success only heightens optimism for what’s next.

Within minutes of full time on Saturday, bookmakers were announcing they were shortening the odds on Ireland to win the World Cup, which starts in 15 months, and Schmidt is only too aware the Irish supporters who came out in force in Australia this month will be expecting more success to follow.

“I’m kind of intimidated by the season because how do you repeat that?” Schmidt wondered on Saturday.

“It’s tough to go again and with that expectation.

“We have that expectation of ourselves that we’re going to try to keep working and try to keep improving.

“I look at the Wallabies team and they’ve got a couple of guys who made their debuts in this series and I thought they were super.

“So we know our direct opponents (Saturday) are going to get better and we know that other opponents are going to get better as well.

“I’ll be surprised if England don’t bounce back, if not this evening (which they did, beating South Africa) then certainly in November and then in the Six Nations. They have too much depth and too much quality not to bounce back.


“France looked so good in the first half three times against the All Blacks and last week I thought they did an unbelievable job 14 against 15, 26-13, that’s a phenomenal effort.

“So there are all sorts of teams who are building and growing their group.

“So when it rolls round to the Six Nations all bets are off again. We have England at home first up and I think it’s going to be a big, loud crowd for that game.”

There is little dispute for now that Ireland are the masters of European rugby, a claim strengthened by Leinster’s Champions Cup and PRO14 double.

Yet Schmidt dare not stand still and be satisfied these Ireland players have maxed out on their potential and can merely coast along on their rarefied plateau.

Indeed, the head coach was busy pointing out areas for improvement from Saturday’s win to illustrate his point.

“No, you can’t maintain things. You’ve got to try to get better. I felt there was a few times in the first half that we could have done slightly better.”

“There was a couple of times where our discipline, when we finally forced an error, Jacob (Stockdale) kicks it ahead and Conor (Murray) is quite well offside. He can’t chase that ball.

“It just allowed them to come straight back into our corner and keep the pressure on us. So just having a real clarity of thought in those pressure situations, especially when we’ve been under the pump for a while as we were in that second half, is a lesson we will take. We’ll have a good look back at it and try to muddle our way through.”

Schmidt will allow himself a short break before he goes back to plotting Ireland’s route to the World Cup, with an opening pool game against Scotland in Yokohama 14 months from now on September 22, 2019.

There is some personal business to attend to in his native New Zealand, school visits and fundraisers, before he kicks back with his family in Ireland.

“I will sneak back and get those things done and then sneak back to Dublin and bury myself for a week at least to catch up with my family and I am really looking forward to that.

“It has been a superb series, I have enjoyed the hospitality we have had, Australia is an incredibly tough but enjoyable place to tour. I love 20 degree days, sunny days, when it is midwinter and I don’t think anyone can complain about that.”

Nor the state of Irish rugby at the end of a memorable campaign.


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