Schmidt won’t let standard go down

NO WAY THROUGH: South Africa's Eben Etzebeth is tied up by Jamie Heaslip, left, and Devin Toner, during Saturday's clash. Picture: Ramsey Cardy

Ireland 29 South Africa 15
Ireland will not be getting a free ride in training this week as they reconvene following this excellent victory over the world number-two ranked South Africans.

For all the positives of claiming a major Southern Hemisphere rugby scalp — their first since overcoming Australia at the 2011 World Cup — there was still plenty to concern the Ireland head coach as he prepares to debrief his squad on their return to training camp this evening.

Schmidt was due to convene his coaches this morning at Carton House to assess the medical reports from another bruising encounter with the Springboks and plot the way forward for the rest of this Guinness Series, which will see Georgia visit the Aviva Stadium next Sunday followed by Australia six days later.

They will also pore over the video of a first victory over South Africa since 2006 and watch their players deliver a performance high on intensity, physicality and character capped by very well taken tries from late back-row inclusion Rhys Ruddock and Tommy Bowe and the faultless goal-kicking of Johnny Sexton. Yet at the same time, the Ireland brains trust will also ponder how they had to overcome an at times creaking set-piece to do so.

That Ireland survived its scrum and lineout being put under the most extreme pressure for long periods of this game by a powerful Springboks pack says much about the grit and determination of a squad led by captain Paul O’Connell, the trust the players clearly have in each other and the environment created by Schmidt to allow those qualities to blossom.

It is also an environment that, amid the elation of a hard-earned win over higher-ranked opposition that had defeated the All Blacks just three weeks ago can also be highly critical of itself.

Both O’Connell and Schmidt expressed disappointment with aspects of their play, not least the concession of a late try from JP Pietersen following a South African maul that had no bearing on the outcome but pointed to the sort of fall-off in standards that cost them dearly a year ago against New Zealand and could prove more expensive if repeated at the World Cup.

While Schmidt allowed for the mitigating circumstances of the Boks having a penalty advantage catching Ireland in two minds in an otherwise excellent defensive effort, he described as being, “at times superhuman” the head coach said: “We got a bit tight in our defensive line and there were a couple of poor decisions.

“We talked last year, against New Zealand, about the system errors we made at the end of the game. That’s when you’ve got to still be crystal clear in your thinking and maintaining your trust in the other players, that you’ve just got to make sure that you’re doing your job and not try to overplay, defensively.

“I guess the only way that we can improve it is looking back to go forward. We’ll try not to go back and we’ll try to maintain a standard next week against Georgia and the week after against Australia. Things just don’t unfortunately happen in a linear fashion, even if you’re working particularly hard to try and make that happen.”

Still, as opening days go, Schmidt’s second season is off to a flyer, a far cry from the angst of a facile victory over Samoa and miserable defeat to Australia which got his tenure under way a year ago.

“It’s satisfying, it’s a relief. With a number of new players who are new in their environment, new combinations, it is a relief but I think at the start of last year in those first two Test matches it is probably a different playing system, probably it’s a different shape and so it does take a couple of goes at it, a bit of feedback and go again.

“I’ve no doubt that teams will work us out a little bit and put pressure on us and you’ve got to keep evolving. That’s a challenge for the coaching group, to help the players who drive the environment to do that.”

There is no doubt Ireland’s victory over South Africa will make their World Cup rivals sit up and take notice and Ireland will have to continue to improve if they are to mount a serious challenge when the England 2015 tournament starts next September.

“It’s probably a benchmark result for us. We are performance driven and our defensive performance tonight was at times superhuman, the number of times guys had to get up and make repeated tackles against such big, strong carriers.

“At the same time, I think next week could be entirely different. It’s hard to say one Test will influence another. If you look back four weeks ago, South Africa were superb against the All Blacks. Past performance guarantees nothing in the future. All Test players understand that. The only things that guarantees performance is the best preparation you can put yourself through and and then hopefully that performance will be good enough to get the result.”

Georgia, overrun by Tonga in a 23-9 defeat in Tbilisi on Saturday, may represent a drop in class but for all their shortcomings the eastern Europeans with their mostly French-based pack will provide plenty of physicality and Schmidt will demand no complacency this week. Only the best preparation will do. Ireland are up and running but there’s still plenty of work to be done.

IRELAND: R Kearney (F Jones, 74); T Bowe, J Payne (E Reddan, 78), R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton (I Madigan, 74), C Murray; J McGrath (D Kilcoyne, 74), S Cronin (R Strauss, 58), M Ross (R Ah You, 74); D Toner (M McCarthy, 74), P O’Connell (capt); P O’Mahony (T O’Donnell, 71), R Ruddock, J Heaslip.

SOUTH AFRICA: W le Roux; C Hendricks (JP Pietersen, 49), J Serfontein, J de Villiers (capt), B Habana; H Pollard (P Lambie, 67), F Hougaard (C Reinach, 56); T Mtawarira (T Nyakane, 67), B du Plessis (A Strauss, 50; B du Plessis 71-76), J du Plessis (C Oosthuizen, 71); E Etzebeth (B Botha, 65), V Matfield, M Coetzee, T Mohoje (S Burger, 47), D Vermeulen.

Yellow card: A Strauss — 66-76.

Referee: Romain Poite (France).

Game-changer

With Ireland 16-10 ahead and South Africa down to 14, Johnny Sexton turned the screw with an excellent kick to the corner from which the home forwards piled the pressure on the visitors’ lineout, Peter O’Mahony (with help from Paul O’Connell) extracting a masterful turnover on the touchline which led to a penalty his fly-half nailed to deliver a mortal blow to Springbok morale.

Talk of the town

Beating South Africa is a moment to savour for any rugby nation but Ireland were right to be annoyed for conceding a late try. It may not have affected the outcome but it prevented Joe Schmidt’s side rising to third in the IRB rankings and was a reminder that the best Test teams keep going for 80 minutes and then some.

Best on show

Johnny Sexton proved once again he is Europe’s best out-half with a superb performance, not just in his unerring goal-kicking display, but his kicking out of hand, tactical nous and defensive bravery. It was a play-making masterclass.

Treatment table

Debutant centre Jared Payne was helped from the field late on and has a sprained foot after an X-ray revealed no break, according to Joe Schmidt, who will welcome back a fit-again Gordon D’Arcy to midfield. Chris Henry was a late withdrawal before kick-off with what was described as a viral issue.

Ref watch

Romain Poite had to make some tricky decisions in an ultra-physical game and both sides will feel hard done by as a result. Marcell Coetzee’s forearm smash on Jamie Heaslip went unpunished despite a video review, while the Boks were aggrieved at Adriaan Strauss’s yellow card.

What’s next?

Ireland will need every hour of their eight-day turnaround before they return to the Aviva to face tier two nation Georgia. The Springboks, meanwhile, face England at Twickenham on Saturday.


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