Still room for improvement despite grand slam, says victorious Ireland boss Joe Schmidt
The 52-year-old says he is pleased with the blend of experience and youth that showed few nerves and held England at bay
Ireland may have achieved only their third grand slam with a clinical Six Nations win over England but head coach Joe Schmidt said there is still a long way to go to the finished article.
The 52-year-old, who has masterminded a renaissance in a side that was demoralised when he took it over after the 2013 championship, said he was pleased with the blend of experience and youth that had shown few nerves and held England at bay.
For Schmidt it was mission accomplished for the Six Nations – he had guided them to successive titles in 2014-15 but never the Triple Crown or grand slam – with the 2019 World Cup the main target for him before he likely steps down.
“It’s incredibly hard to predict,” said Schmidt referring to the future prospects.
“They are growing and getting better and understanding more but there is still a long way to go for those players.”
Schmidt, who also has guided the Irish to a national record 12 successive Test wins and counting, said young players were standing up and proving themselves but the spine of the team was still the experienced hands.
“To be honest, we rely still on the same hub,” said Schmidt.
“Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray were immense today, CJ (Stander) and Peter O’Mahony were fantastic.
“The newish players though stood out as well.
“James Ryan is getting better all the time. Tadhg Furlong is still young for a tighthead, Andrew Porter coming on to lock the scrum down at only 21.
“Youthful enthusiasm is being tempered by the experienced guys who have been here before and that blend is working very well for us.”
His skipper, the grizzled hooker Rory Best, certainly fits into the “experienced guys” group but the 111-times capped 35-year-old wasn’t going to make too many long-term predictions either.
“I think it really depends,” said Best.
“We’re really happy with today. We wanted a grand slam and I think we’ll look beyond that at a later date.
“It all depends on how we kick on.”
Best, who is yet to sign a new contract that would take him through to the next World Cup, said the future did look rosy at the moment because the young were so willing to grow up quickly within the Test squad environment.
“The way the younger players have come in, and not just fitted in, but wanting to keep getting better,” said Best.
“As long as they keep that mentality and the guys who are a bit more experienced keep that ‘I want to keep going forward’ mentality, that’s all you can ask.
“We’ll not know until our next go in the green jersey but knowing the group, this is what we wanted but we’ll always want more because we’re competitive and we’re a little bit greedy.”
Best said their greed was exemplified by how they stuck to the task and scored a crucial try through prolific wing Jacob Stockdale in stoppage time of the first-half to surge 21-5 ahead.
“It’s our mentality to go and attack,” said Best.
“We want the ball, we want to keep the ball, and we don’t just want to get it off (the field). We’re fit, we train to play in those moments.
“But when you have momentum, sometimes either side of half-time teams can switch off a little bit and you can capitalise.
“While you’re going forward, while you have momentum, we knew we had to attack England today.
“That was following through on our mentality and what we had committed to all week.”