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For everything that Joe Schmidt was able to change within and about Irish Rugby, the World Cup quarter-final remains this nation’s glass ceiling, the final game of an unforgettable six years in charge one of the lowest points of his tenure. That there was a degree of competition for that crown is an indication of just how curious his last season at the helm has become the longer its worn on.
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While the Triple Crowns in the early part of this century, 2009’s Grand Slam, and provincial successes on the European stage all laid the foundation, Schmidt has been the undoubted key figure in taking things to a new level in the sport in Ireland, one that, regardless of the foibles of the system, had Ireland ranked as the number one side on the planet as this tournament began.
Back-to-back Six Nations titles for a first time since the 1940s, the breaking of an 111-year hoodoo against the All Blacks, a maiden Test win in South Africa and a first series win over the Wallabies in Australia since 1979. The list of achievements has been lengthy, the effect on Irish Rugby transformative.
Yet since beating these same All Blacks in November of last year, after which he revealed he’d be leaving post Ireland’s involvement here in Japan, the bad days have been more frequent. England and Wales in the Six Nations as well as the Twickenham debacle in August were chalked up to degrees of experimentation. Here on the biggest stage though, has been definitive evidence of a side who have lost their way. Only against Scotland did they resemble the side that consistently went to the well for Schmidt again and again.
It’s been a hell of a ride but now that it’s ended with a crash the inevitable questions of what comes next loom large.
We’ve known for a year that it wi
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