'Broken' by the World Cup: Ireland's Schmidt signs off with scars

Luke PHILLIPS
Joe Schmidt won three Six Nations titles with Ireland and took them to number one in the world (AFP Photo/Odd ANDERSEN)

Tokyo (AFP) - A "broken" Joe Schmidt signed off as Ireland coach with a crushing loss to his native New Zealand that condemned the Irish team to a record seventh World Cup quarter-final exit.

That followed a shock pool defeat by tournament hosts Japan, but Schmidt insisted that, with time, he would look back with pride on the job he did with Ireland.

"You tend to carry scars a lot more than your successes so those scars are deep and that's why I am a little bit broken by it," the 54-year-old said after his side's 46-14 defeat by the All Blacks.

"But when I get some distance to reflect, I think it's 75-odd Test matches and we've won 75 percent of them.

"There have been some incredibly good days and I don't think they get washed away by two defeats and days where we're incredibly disappointed."

The former schoolmaster, known for his attention to detail and work ethic, is to leave the post so he can return to New Zealand and spend time on family projects.

And New Zealand coach Steve Hansen was quick to heap praise on the "wonderful" Schmidt, who led Ireland to two memorable victories over the All Blacks (2016, 2018) during his tenure, with retiring skipper Rory Best at the fore.

"Both of them have been instrumental in changing Ireland into a team that earlier in the year were number one in the world, so big congratulations to them," Hansen said of coach and captain.

"I know they're both finishing up, it's probably not the way they wanted to do it, but unfortunately, sport's not fair.

"But I'd like to say well done to them, they've done a marvellous job for Ireland. They've made a difference in their time."

Former English teacher Schmidt took charge in 2013 and he and Best have overseen a purple patch since the disappointment of the 2015 World Cup, when an injury-hit side were run ragged by Argentina in the quarter-finals.

- 'Bit of an insomniac' -

"Some of the wins he has had have set standards that are probably different than they were before he took over," argued Ireland lock James Ryan.

Luke McGrath added: "Everyone goes into championships now thinking we have a very good chance of winning –- and that's all down to the work Joe has done over the last six-and-a-half years and we'll be sad to see him leave."

Schmidt's legacy includes three Six Nations titles in six campaigns. Prior to his arrival the Irish had only won one in the previous 28 years -- the 2009 Grand Slam with Brian O'Driscoll as captain.

They entered the World Cup at number one in the global rankings, a position they occupied for two weeks before New Zealand resumed their long-term occupancy of the top spot.

"One word you associate with Joe Schmidt is detail," O'Driscoll, who played under Schmidt at both Leinster and Ireland, told AFP.

"I have never known any coach to scrutinise a game like him. He is an absolute rugby anorak, it is his passion as well as his profession. He is a bit of an insomniac too as he watches so much of it."

O'Driscoll added: "He isn't too schoolmasterly, but you want to know what you are talking about, don't go off half-cocked. He will sit you down too if needs be, he won't take any bullshit."

Ireland fly-half Jonny Sexton said Schmidt brought a holistic approach to his job, adding he had left an "unbelievable mark" on Irish rugby.

"Rather than winning being everything, it was all about values and how you act day-to-day, on and off the pitch," he said.

It is perhaps fitting Schmidt bowed out against the revered New Zealand, the country of his birth.

"Inevitably, as a four-year-old kid when I first started playing rugby, barefoot rugby in Te Aroha in New Zealand, everyone looks up to the All Blacks," he said.

"You watch them as a young kid and all the way through."