So the end of the November series is upon us, the rugby on the pitch delivered, the supporters delivered in the stands and unfortunately Joe Schmidt delivered exactly the news we expected.
So first let’s have a quick run through the games.
First was a trip to Chicago for the necessary evil of world sport in 2018. The money game against Italy. Both teams fielding their ‘a’ sides and looking to cement a squad ethic while showing their systems. Joe stayed at home until late in the week, delegating game week activities to Easterby. Working on the more important matches later in the series. Ireland walked away with an easy 54-7 win. Making Italy tackle all over the pitch, showing there is a squad and not a team and showing belief in all facets of the game. A leaky defence in recent years appears to have been finally addressed by Farrell and the team. Ireland had a switch off period of 10 minutes in the first half, but Ireland navigated with ease. Larmour showing amazing skill and the team hitting the ground running. Job done, money made and the players got home injury free. Work ons there, but a confident start.
Then we welcomed the other other old enemy Argentina to the Aviva Stadium. Ireland rolled to a 28-17 win which was a bit easier than the score line suggested, even while playing not near optimal. Again Ireland made Argentina work, they had 11 players in double figures in tackles. The wet blanket pressure game was in full affect without much going to hand. A very meh game. Not a lot learnt but the mark of a great team is winning while not playing well. In every sport, the best teams have an ability to do that. The main thing coming out of the game was that we realised the Larmour love and overabundance was found out here, that is a positive, it makes us calm down. It won’t affect the player and his ability or future but it keeps the supporters in check.
Then it was time for the big dogs to arrive in Dublin. The champ champs arrived looking for a scalp and the put the plucky Irish back in their place. Ireland stepped up, smothered and strangled New Zealand and left them laying. Ireland bossed the game for near the full 80. They ran further, kicked more, forced more tackles out of the opposition and forced over twice the amount of penalties out of a rugby dynasty. There was literally no stat in New Zealand’s favour. This was more than just a loss; this was a steamrolling. Not a demolition by any way, but usually a losing effort has some positives to take into the next game as a work on, but in this case there was literally nothing. That is a mental bullet. Twice in three game Ireland have won and won well. New Zealand have the one win after a street fight of a game in the Aviva. They couldn’t play their way out of the pressure, they fought their way out. That won’t work ever again and this is the biggest victory Ireland have in the game. Make no mistake, New Zealand will not relish looking at a green jersey for the next few years. A massive marker down from Ireland here.
Finishing off with the welcome of the USA Eagles to Dublin. Coming in after the high of the All Blacks game Ireland played a new 14. Or a new 14. Ringrose remaining in place. Remaining in place to allow him to be an on pitch leader which was evident throughout. Finishing 57-14, Ireland showed an ability to deliver in tough times. Mentally more than physically. Ringrose was a leader and was bossing the team around. Carbery is class to watch live, always has space and with the added game time in red has improved his defence massively.
So Ireland march through November with players coming back from injury (Farrell and Murray) losing a couple (O’Brien, Henshaw) but in a health that has never been seen before. Ireland navigated tough games, performed in easy games and dominated the dominators. Won coach of the year, team of the year and player of the year at The World Rugby Awards in Monaco. It couldn’t have gone any better
Usually when a coach leaves it is a heart-breaking moment. Usually it is a bitter exit, brought on by results and run ins with management. This time, everything was working well on all fronts. The only issue was would Joe want to return home to coach his national side? I think we all knew he would be leaving sooner rather than later, with rumours of a 1-year extension and Foster getting the All Blacks role post Hansen there where pockets of positivity but the news came through while in rush hour this morning. Our joe would be leaving us after the world cup. Hopefully leaving with a winner’s medal in his jacket pocket. This was to be expected. Andy Farrell will step in and that has been met with positivity. Rightly so? I put a question mark there because we have been lauding his defensive system but we had conceded more tries in the 6 Nations this year than most years, even while leaving with the winner’s trophy. My point being it is not all rosy post 2019. Farrell now has time to put his team together, to eke out the last pieces of wisdom from Joe to add to his own and to learn about life in the big chair. I think he will do well, but we need to relax for a bit. A lot of rugby left to play.
Ireland roll out of November with the other teams in fear of the green wet blanket. I think we all need to take a breath and chill, a lot of life left in the Joe Schmidt green machine yet. We can celebrate next summer!