A devastated Joe Schmidt assessed the wreckage of Ireland’s World Cup campaign and promised to move mountains to get his side primed and ready for next year’s Six Nations title defence and a daunting three-Test series in South Africa.
Ireland failed at the quarter-final stage for the sixth time in a crushing 43-20 defeat to their tournament betes noire Argentina at the Millennium Stadium yesterday, their still unattained dream of reaching the last four on hold once more until Japan 2019.
Whether head coach Schmidt will still be at the helm then remains to be seen, his recently-signed contract running only to the end of the 2016-17 season but the former Leinster boss vowed last night to patch his team back together and prepare for a Six Nations three-in-a-row bid next spring.
Asked if he wanted to stay on until the next World Cup, Schmidt laughed and replied: “Way too early for that!” before adding: “I can tell you now, I’m buggered... but there’s no way I want to go home. I want to keep working for two more weeks and I’m as gutted as any of those players that I’m not going to be working at what I love doing.
“I’ll be working all right. I’ll be working at reviews and looking back through things and that’s never enjoyable when you’ve lost your last game and you’re out of the World Cup when you could have set a new benchmark and I think the players are really conscious of that as well. We’re going to have to glue ourselves back together and look at the Six Nations and after that we’ll be going to South Africa for three Test matches. We’re going to have to be as well prepared for that as we possibly can be.
“Somebody mentioned about the divide between north and south (hemispheres) rugby and I’ve been there plenty of times with Super Rugby and it’s a very tough place to go. So we know that what’s in front of is going to be very tough. So I’ll probably try and grab a breath for a couple of weeks. I’ve got some things that I need to get sorted with what we’re doing at home and we’ll go from there.” Regardless of his own part in the matter, Schmidt backed Irish rugby to reach its long-standing ambition of a World Cup semi-final place even if the country’s limited playing pool put them at a disadvantage compared with the game’s big guns, particularly when his team incurred the level of injuries they suffered losing Paul O’Connell, Johnny Sexton and Peter O’Mahony against France last week.
“I’m sure (the glass ceiling) can be broken. I’m sure it will be broken. I think the fact that we’ve topped our pool the last two World Cups in a row (shows it can). I think the fact that we got to the ranking we did, and the fact that we’ve won the last two Six Nations.
“If you get lucky, you win a game or you might win two but you’ve got to work really hard to win a championship or to get to a sustained level of success. So I think for us, the degree of depth we select from four teams, they have a number of players who aren’t available to us to select and that’s obviously going to give you a reasonably small group to select from.
“There are other teams who have a broader base and therefore they can sustain a few injuries and not have the consequence that we had.
“We’ve sustained injuries before but if you picked out five guys you couldn’t have picked out five much worse ones from a leadership and experience perspective. We lost 250-odd caps in the space of 80 minutes last week.”
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