Six Nations champions Ireland’s clinical 29-15 victory over South Africa atoned for the disappointment of losing to the All Blacks in the final minute of their November Test last year, said coach Joe Schmidt.
The 49-year-old New Zealander, who has transformed the Irish since he replaced Declan Kidney after the 2013 Six Nations, praised his players for their courage and determination in resisting intense Springbok pressure for most of the first-half and then having the ability to go on and win the game.
It was Ireland’s fifth successive victory and first against a southern hemisphere superpower since Schmidt took over.
However, perfectionist Schmidt still had a regret over allowing the Springboks to score a try in the final minute.
“Probably my first reflection would be that South Africa scored at the same time as the All Blacks did last year,” said Schmidt.
“We want to be known as a team that plays for 85 minutes but the victory certainly does atone for the disappointment we felt at the end of November last year.”
Schmidt, who enjoyed a successful spell as head coach of Irish province Leinster, winning two European Cups and a Challenge Cup, rang the praises of his players for the character they had shown.
“The determination they showed in the first-half defensively helped build a bit of confidence for us,” he said.
“You have to physically deliver and man up and the players did. I thought Paul (O’Connell the captain) and Devan (Toner) along with several others were outstanding.”
O’Connell, for his part, agreed with Schmidt that the last minute try was regrettable but took great joy from the win nonetheless.
“To beat a southern hemisphere side is brilliant and is certainly one of the best victories for me as captain,” said the 35-year-old lock, who was captaining Ireland for the 17th time on his 95th appearance for his country.
Schmidt, who said he had been pleased with the performance of the rookie centre partnership of debutant Jared Payne and 21-year-old Robbie Henshaw which was the first time since 1999 that neither Gordon D’Arcy nor the retired Brian O’Driscoll had featured, said contrary to public perception he hadn’t brought up the subject of injuries to 17 players prior to the match.
“It is true we had a spine of experience through the side although we slipped a couple of discs with Rory Best and Chris Henry dropping out this week but the likes of Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton (who scored 16 points) were outstanding,” Schmidt said.
O’Connell said that there would still be work needed to be done before they face Georgia in the second of their Tests next Sunday.