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Joe Schmidt's men already thinking of next test after win over Australia

By David Kelly

It is now more than an hour after the game but still a thin bead of perspiration pours a rivulet across the forehead of Mike Ross.

He wears his natty team suit as if it were a blanket of fatigue and it seems for all the world as if he can no longer stand for fear of collapsing in a heap before us.

"Take a seat, if you need it, Mike," we beseech. Ross and his collection of transient sweat droplets silently refuse.

Instead, we ask him about the 11 seconds when this most extraordinary, breathless epic was, perhaps, ultimately decided - that final scrum.

Such irony that a game, one featuring a try that prompted Cliff Morgan's voice to echo in one's head when an 11th pair of Australian hands dotted down after a sublime passage sprouted from their own 22, should be determined by the sport's most rudimentary exercise.

There were just minutes remaining; a penalty to Australia would have gifted them a fourth, and most probably final, levelling score; to Ireland, a draw would have salted their manifold physical wounds, feeling like a loss.

"We'd taken them a bit lower in the previous couple," recalls Ross.

"They had started to seem a bit less confident than they had been.

"We knew first off we couldn't give away a penalty because it was right beneath the sticks. We had to be as legal as possible.

"Then it's about making sure you don't give them an angle. They've two game-breakers on. We just wanted to give our back-row every chance.

"We dropped it a little bit. Kept the pressure down and through. Waited to see who would blink first. The ball stayed in the tunnel for a bit.

"I don't know how long. Then head down. And push. The longer it went on, we just kept dropping and dropping. Suddenly something gave.

"Ffffffffff," exhales Ross now, as he did then. "God, when I was getting up and heard the whistle, I was wondering which way is this going to go. Because you never know. You think you might. But you never know. Thankfully, it was for us."

Australia advanced still but even their quick minds were betrayed by tiring limbs in the endgame. Ireland, again, had somehow discovered another route to success.

It is not coincidence that Ireland's sole defeats under Joe Schmidt have occurred on the only two occasions when they had more of the ball, not less of it.

"We don't want to play an unstructured game and there are elements of that which are in our control to stop it going that way," observed Rory Best with a clinical assessment.

Australia seek to entertain and win; Ireland seek merely to win. Victory scripts its own rite of celebration.

"The challenge for us is to make sure we maintain or structure and shape," adds Best. "It got loose and we put pressure on ourselves."

And yet Ireland under Schmidt will still cast their eyes upwards. Two momentous November victories, in the wake of a Six Nations title, has supporters gulping for air with the intoxicating promise of a World Cup year to come.

Rory Best reminds us with a sigh that these giddy times have been witnessed before.

This achievement will not detain them; rather, it will hurry them to their next assignation in a ceaseless quest for perfection.

And however much fatigue wears them down, they shall never tire of it.

Belfast Telegraph


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