Irish skipper Paul O’Connell pays the side’s mentor the ultimate compliment.
Ireland’s resurgence this season as a rugby side is down to coach Joe Schmidt bringing clarity to the national set up since he took over after a disappointing Six Nations campaign last year, said captain Paul O’Connell.
O’Connell — whose appointment as captain by Schmidt during last November’s tests has proved an astute choice despite being 34 and prone to injury — was speaking after Ireland had secured the Six Nations title by beating France 22-20 in Paris.
For O’Connell it was his first win in Paris after 12 years as an international and for the Irish it was only their second in 42 years and saw them win the title a year after they finished second from bottom.
Declan Kidney, a man who O’Connell knew well from his time playing under him at Irish province Munster, was sacked as coach on account of the poor campaign, and Schmidt was brought in after winning two European Cups with Leinster.
“We had a bad year last year and Joe has brought with him a lot of what the Leinster boys had been saying for years about him in the papers,” said O’Connell, who was winning his 92nd cap.
“He has brought real clarity to what we are meant to be doing, whether it be in attack or the ruck everyone knows their role.
“That is crucial because when you are a good team and you have clear instructions of your roles you start getting results.
“We made progress after the November Tests (their last November Test they came within seconds of beating world champions New Zealand for the first time in their history) and despite the defeat to England in this Six Nations we have moved forward since then.”
Schmidt, who prior to taking the Leinster job in 2010 was assistant coach at top French club Clermont for three years, was reluctant to take the plaudits for turning round Ireland’s fortunes.
“I am a small cog in a huge machine,” said the 48-year-old New Zealander.
“We have a great medical team who get the boys fixed up and back out on the pitch fit to play.
“Also the other coaching staff are superb, for instance Les Kiss the defence coach has done a remarkable job, we only conceded four tries throughout the tournament.
“Then there are the players who I am immensely proud of because they have been very professional throughout, although they’re not being very professional now in the dressing room but they earned that!” he added with a broad grin.
For O’Connell there was just one negative to take from the game.
“I was disappointed by the last 10 minutes because we should have closed the game out and I thought oh oh this could be a repeat of the All Blacks game,” he said.
“However, fortunately it was not the same result, but it is definitely something we have to look at, to be more disciplined when we are leading and the clock is winding down.”
Despite that, though, O’Connell said the positives outweighed the negatives.
“I’ve been coming here since I was 22 and never tasted victory till today,” he said.
“So coming here and scoring three good tries, which is something not many teams do, and to win makes me very happy for the lads after the difficult year last year.
“The years where we play England and France away (the evenly numbered years) are our most difficult campaign, so to have won the title this year is a great achievement.”