Joe Schmidt insists Ireland's losses are not signs of regression
Joe Schmidt insists Ireland have not regressed since November despite his side already suffering two defeats in the RBS 6 Nations.
Ireland landed their first-ever victory over New Zealand in 111 years of trying with the 40-29 win over the back-to-back world champions in Chicago in the autumn.
Schmidt's side registered a maiden calendar-year clean sweep over the southern hemisphere's big three superpowers in 2016 too, but have now slipped to Six Nations losses in Scotland and Wales.
Ireland surrendered any lingering pretensions to the Six Nations crown with Friday's 22-9 defeat in Cardiff, leaving head coach Schmidt defending his side's work in 2017.
Asked if Ireland have lost ground since the autumn series, Schmidt replied: "No, I don't think so. I think there's incredible intensity in this tournament.
"The championship is always incredibly tight. In November, you get to play at home mostly and I guess as frustrating at it is, I still think there was some really positive things that we did (in Cardiff).
"I thought our line speed in the first 20 minutes put them under real pressure and created opportunities for us and, as I said before, I thought we were a bit unlucky not to get something more from them when we did get in behind them.
"It is incredibly frustrating that you get so close to the line and even get over it and get the ball down but don't quite get the reward for it. Those are the fine margins, and some days it's just hard to buy a trick.
"We have to take that on the chin and we can't afford to wallow."
George North hit back at his critics from Wales' loss in Scotland to claim two tries in a match-winning turn as the hosts completely shut Ireland down in Cardiff.
Jamie Roberts landed a late try too, as Rob Howley's side comprehensively outplayed Schmidt's men.
Ireland ploughed through phase after phase in a bid to unlock Wales, but were denied their usual attacking rhythm and wound up a blunt force on the front foot.
Boss Schmidt refused to accept his side have become predictable in attack, in a sentiment echoed by Wales coach Howley.
Howley scoffed at the idea of Ireland's attack becoming easy to read, saying: "A Joe Schmidt side predictable? Come on now. They are a quality attacking team."
And when ex-Leinster boss Schmidt had his chance to defend his team, it was one he did not waste.
Asked if Ireland had become predictable, Schmidt replied: "It's funny you say that. In the end you're always looking for variation.
"In fact the teams had seven line breaks each. A lot of the stats are very, very even.
"Unfortunately the one that favours us is a 10-4 penalty count and the one that favours them is the 22-9 result.
"For us, we'll look at the performance more than the result and say, 'In the performance, the seven line breaks we did make, how did we create those?'
"Did we play with width? I don't think anyone can say that we didn't play with width. At times in the 22, some of the ball was very slow and it makes it very hard.
"There was a period when we were playing quite close and we picked up our third penalty in about a five-minute period five metres out from the line.
"That's what we want and we took the three points but we had gone back to the lineout before that, and when you don't convert those it's very tough and it starts, for players, to feel pressure and players get a little bit tense and potentially don't play with freedom.
"Looking at the stats, it's actually incredibly even across the board."