Joe Schmidt refused to say if the victory over England to deny them the Grand Slam was sweeter than Ireland’s first ever win over New Zealand last year, given both halted 18-match unbeaten streaks.
“You don’t want to pick between those,” Schmidt said after watching his side beat England 13-9 at the Aviva Stadium to repeat their Grand Slam-denying heroics of 2001 and 2011 against their bitter rivals.
“It’s a record we have that we were fortunate to be the team that played them 19th both times. We didn’t necessarily earn those. They were both good performances. We didn’t necessarily talk about spoiling parties. We talked about producing performances that we could be proud of.”
It certainly was a performance to be proud of that sent thousands of delirious Irish fans back to their St Patrick’s celebrations, having seen their side record their first win of the Six Nations against one of the Triple Crown opponents, avoiding a whitewash in the process that has not happened since 1998.
Part of the pride will stem from Ireland’s never-give-in attitude even when they felt things were going against them. The Ireland captain, Rory Best, repeatedly asked the referee, Jerome Garces, why England’s high tackles were not being penalised.
“It was [frustrating],” said Best. “He kept saying the TMO was keeping an eye on it. I suppose he was saying it was his job and the TMOs look at that. But it was my job as captain to make sure our players were looked after and I knew if I didn’t put a bit of pressure on him then I’d get it in the neck from Joe.”
One of those people to look after was the fly-half, Jonathan Sexton, who copped a number of heavy tackles from Maro Itoje and James Haskell as England tried to impose on the world class stand-off.
“I don’t think it was anything other than trying to put pressure on Johnny,” Best conceded. “But we have to look after our players, and a key player like Johnny. You don’t want players going off unnecessarily.”
But Schmidt, rather than talk about anything that went against them, wanted to express his pleasure in the performance, and also their opponents after a gruelling encounter that brought the curtain down on a fascinating Six Nations that sees England leave Dublin with the title, just not the Grand Slam they desired.
“It was just great that they went out and played with confidence,” said Schmidt. “Last week we had some real frustrations. We didn’t quite get results from our driven maul. Probably the biggest frustration from the championship was the first 30 minutes we played.
“To be fair to England what an incredible Test match record. 18 consecutive Test match victories. Winning one game is hard enough let alone 18. You couldn’t say anything other than they were deserved champions. We’re envious they were out there with the silverware at the end of the day.”
But he also dismissed any accusation that the withdrawal of Jamie Heaslip, five minutes before kick-off, was anything other than an injury suffered during the warm-up, despite Eddie Jones questioning the validity of it.
“[That] Couldn’t be a more flawed theory,” he said. “It’s probably a bit of a slight on us. Because it’s not something that we do. We pick our team and go out and play. It was a disruption if anything for us. Dan Leavy got a heck of a shock when I told him.
“Jamie has just pulled up with a hamstring. I don’t know if you saw Jamie doing the warm-up but it was very late in the warm-up. I’d say five minutes before kick-off.”