Rory Keane reports from Johannesburg
FOR A MAN who had just masterminded arguably the greatest victory in the history of Irish rugby, Joe Schmidt cut a cool figure following his side’s heroics in Cape Town.
Chatting to the small gathering of Irish press on this South African mission, the Kiwi was his usual calm and composed self.
There was guts and character aplenty across the board on Saturday. Schmidt, however, was quick to point out the canny and intelligent parts of the Irish performance such as Luke Marshall’s deft grubber kick for Jared Payne’s try, Paddy Jackson’s timely drop goal just before the break or the tactical brilliance of Conor Murray.
It was the bravest of rear-guard efforts, but there was plenty of methods throughout the madness.
“I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a team scramble and work so hard to stay in the game,” said Schmidt following his side’s stunning 26-20 win at Newlands.
“When down 13-10, I felt we were incredibly unlucky with Robbie’s tackle. I thought both arms were wrapped below the shoulders and if there was a bit of a head clash, again, I think it was pretty unlucky, particularly because Luke Marshall had his cover line blocked pretty visibly.
“When they went 13-10 up nobody panicked. [To] Jacko, we sent a simple message on, build and take the drop goal if it’s on and he just did it like a past master, it was a class effort. The try in the second half, we did get a bit of a fortuitous finger tip from Le Roux but at the same time I thought we finished it really well and the same in the first half.
“It was a super little ball from Luke Marshall, again, probably one of the unsung workhorses of the day but you could probably name a stack of those.”
Ulster centre Marshall delivered a superb performance against a physical Springbok midfield and fully justified his selection alongside Robbie Henshaw with his defensive reads, footwork and distribution all top class.
It was the 25-year-old’s first start in an Ireland since the Argentina tour back in June 2014.
Marshall, who was Ireland’s 24th man on matchdays throughout the Six Nations, developed a highly-effective midfield partnership with Stuart McCloskey for Ulster this season putting him right back in the shop window for Test selection.
Schmidt came in for criticism for not selecting McCloskey for this summer tour; many feeling the Bangor Bulldozer was tailor-made to take on the Boks.
“Yeah, we probably copped a little bit from different people about who’s here but the guys that are really put their hands up today,” said Schmidt.
“We know they’d be some really good ones that missed out on selection but we want to keep growing the group and that’s part of what we want to try to do while we’re here and I think they’ve got a bit of growth out of today.”
Therefore, does the Ireland head coach feel vindicated for his much-criticised squad selection?
“Not really, because on the day of selections I made 29 phone calls,” Schmidt replied.
“It’s the worst part of the job because I know how hard those players have worked and how important it is for them to get a green jersey. You want to be able to give them out and challenge people. You have to be really good at a lot of things.