Schmidt: North is closing gap

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt believes that the northern hemisphere teams have made a statement this June. JON CARDINELLI reports from Port Elizabeth.

On Saturday in Sydney, England beat Australia 44-40 to claim a 3-0 series win. Meanwhile, in Port Elizabeth, Ireland went down 19-13 to the Springboks in the third and decisive Test.

Despite the defeat, Ireland have proved a point on their three-match tour to South Africa. Schmidt believes that the performances by Ireland and England are testament to the north’s improvement since the 2015 World Cup.

‘What’s the gap between the north and the south? About six points,’ quipped Schmidt, in reference to the margin of victory in each of the three Tests played in South Africa this June.

‘Look, there’s no chasm there,’ he continued in a more serious tone. ‘What England managed to achieve in their clean sweep of Australia was exceptional.

‘We didn’t do too badly ourselves. I have always felt that South Africa is a tough place to tour. You don’t get offered too much on a plate [in terms of winning opportunities]. You have to find your own food, you have to rummage for yourself.’

Schmidt refused to comment on the incident that took place in the 11th minute at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday. Willie le Roux collided with Ireland fullback Tieran O’Halloran, but only received a yellow card. In the first Test of the series, Ireland flanker CJ Stander hammered into Pat Lambie and was shown red.

Schmidt said that the players and coaches were still upset about that decision to eject Stander at Newlands. As far as the Le Roux incident at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium was concerned, Schmidt would not been drawn into criticising the officials in public.

Instead, Schmidt lamented his team’s own errors. It was the difference between another defeat, and a historic series win for Ireland in South Africa.

‘Take nothing away from the Boks, but sometimes you don’t get what you feel you deserve,’ the Ireland coach said. ‘We contributed to our own downfall, though.

‘There were some skill and execution errors that cost us. It’s probably more frustrating to get that close and lose, because you know that if we were clinical with just one more of those passes or opportunities we could have won the series.

‘We were a bit flat after losing in Joburg. But by Thursday, a lot of life came back into this team. We lost the game, but not because of a lack of effort. As a coach you demand perfection, but I will take some pride in the work ethic shown in this Test.

‘Maybe we did show a bit of inexperience,’ Schmidt said in reference to two specific incidents. Faf de Klerk intercepted in the 53rd minute to thwart an Ireland attack when the visitors had a two-man overlap. At the death, De Klerk found himself outnumbered again, but rushed the ball-carrier and killed the movement.

‘You have to be clinical in your execution at Test level, as you don’t get too many invitations,’ Schmidt said with a sigh. ‘We did get some nice invitations tonight. Unfortunately we didn’t turn up for them.’

Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images

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Jon Cardinelli