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Saturday 3 December 2016

Joe is living among giants

Schmidt makes light of Hansen's claim the All Blacks are underdogs

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt at squad training
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt at squad training

For me, it wasn't about making history. I never thought it would be something particularly special to be part of the first Ireland team to beat them. It would be such a modest boast - like being giant-killers when really you want to be the giant. - Paul O'Connell, The Battle

Coach Joe Schmidt and his right-hand-man shared a lot of the same drive when they were locked into an unholy union.

The former captain never looked in the mirror and saw David when he was preparing to face Goliath.

It was part of the reason the Limerick man's greatest challenge always came from the demons within.

His expectations were not born out of historical fact, but personal planning.

The same reflection comes back at Schmidt, a man devoted to squeezing every last ounce of commitment, cohesion, precision and belief out of his gallant foot soldiers.

Schmidt has made the transformative reach from the heartbreak of 2013 to the heart-healing of Chicago.

Are Ireland still just the giant-slayers or on their way to becoming green giants?

"For me, I certainly don't see us as either of those things," Schmidt responded.

"Professional sport is so fickle. I know that in 2013 there was incredible disappointment because I felt that day we probably deserved to get the win.

"You only deserve what you get."

At present, Schmidt gets what Ireland have done and what they will have to do tomorrow.

"We will have to go to the end and beyond," he said.

The Kiwi cut a pragmatic figure out in Carton House yesterday.

The emotion has been wiped away like a solitary tear.

The furore has been replaced by a typically forensic outlook towards the 2019 World Cup.

"This time I don't see it as making a huge difference for us," he said, about breaking the All Black hoodoo.

"It gives us a few more ranking points which is not something that we reference too much.

"But, it is in the background because at the end of the Six Nations you want to make sure you position yourself relatively well.

"It does not necessarily mean you are going to avoid the Pool of Death because someone is going to be (ranked) 9th/10th/11th and going to be a very good team.

"It just means there is not the certainty of that, if we can avoid being in those positions."

Schmidt will have Seán O'Brien back in the position the openside has made his own, when fit and firing, as the single change from Chicago.

The Tullow Tank is one player the All Blacks respect and fear in equal measure.

Ultan Dillane's sore knee has allowed Iain Henderson to man the bench after recovering from a shoulder injury.

Paddy Jackson will resume his back-up role ahead of the fast-improving Joey Carbery.

The shock in Chicago has rocketed the expectations of a nation.

Steve Hansen's plan to heighten Irish expectations by ludicrously suggesting the All Blacks are "underdogs" was met with good humour.

"I wouldn't suggest that he'd become a bookmaker," giggled Schmidt.

Everyone has been here before. The 2007, 2011 and 2015 World Cups all come to mind.

"I don't think you're ever super comfortable with the expectation because we stay focused on trying to hit some performance markers and sometimes the expectation we don't control.

"Some people say some things about what we are capable of doing, of what we should be doing or what our opponents aren't capable of doing.

"We know that, on any given day, any of that information might be false because on any given day, somebody can turn up and deliver.

"Somebody can get a couple of things right and it swings a game."

Expectation is a luxury Schmidt simply can't afford to embrace.

"What you try to do is be as studious as you can, try to be as clear as you can in what your plan is."

Ireland: R Kearney; A Trimble, J Payne, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best (capt), T Furlong, D Toner, D Ryan, CJ Stander, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.

New Zealand: B Smith; I Dagg, M Fekitoa, A Lienert-Brown, J Savea; B Barrett, A Smith; J Moody, D Coles, O Franks, B Retallick, S Whitelock, L Squire, S Cane, K Read (capt).

Verdict: New Zealand

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