Joe Schmidt has is braced for sleepless nights as he searches for “marginal gains” in the wake of their 23-16 loss to Wales.
The Ireland boss has never shied away from his status as a rugby scholar, but being driven to insomnia by missing out on an Six Nations Grand Slam could be a first. Wales coach Warren Gatland revealed victory would mean he would not struggle to drag himself out of bed – before Schmidt explained how defeat will just drive him deeper into his already supremely-detailed analysis.
“I’ll struggle to go to bed to be honest,” said Schmidt about how he copes with defeat. “I’ll look at the game, I’ll think about the what-ifs and the maybes, because I think there were a fair few what-ifs and maybes.
“I’ll look at the last lineout drive, I’ll look at the scrum, I’ll look at the 22 and the pressure and how close we got to getting over the line, and the small margins and marginal gains that if you manage to do that then you potentially change the result.
“I felt at 20-16 that we were back in the game, we were inside a score away from them, and I felt we attacked pretty positively right from the restart, got up to halfway and then unfortunately gave them a penalty that allowed them to go further in front. That was really disappointed and further reflected our endeavour but not our accuracy and our performance.”
Scott Williams’ second-half try floored Ireland, who dominated territory and possession but could find no route through Wales’ resolute defence. Ireland did claim a penalty try, but were made to pay for a rudderless first 20 minutes. Schmidt’s side can still retain their title, but must now rely on a points-difference triumph, just like last season.
England scaled the Six Nations table with 25-13 victory over Scotland at Twickenham, although the top three teams all have six points going into the final round. Ireland must now hope to better England and Wales’ points-difference tally as well as seeing off Scotland in Edinburgh on Saturday.
Wales boss Gatland conceded victory would allow him to avoid the depths of depression that follow Test match defeats. “I’ve been through the other side of things on a number of occasions when we’ve lost key games when we’ve been in front through critical moments,” said Gatland. “As coaches it means a lot to us.
“When you suffer a loss the next three or four days are a struggle, even in terms of getting out of bed sometimes. Emotionally it just shows we were definitely with the players in knowing how important it was today to get a result and a victory.
“The crowd were amazing, you couldn’t ask for anything more from a Test match; it had everything.”