Analysis: Best and Schmidt’s final farewell

Rory Best and Joe Schmidt have achieved so much together for Ireland.

Rory Best and Joe Schmidt have achieved so much together for Ireland.

The back-to-back Championship titles, the 2018 Grand Slam and of course those two ground-breaking victories over the All Blacks.

But all good things must come to an end, and the challenge here was just too big.

Like Thierry Dusautoir in 2015, like Mario Ledesma in 2011, the spectre of New Zealand in a World Cup quarter-final loomed too large.

There will be regrets, certainly at the manner of the defeat. Three scores down midway through the first half, eventually beaten 46-14 in Tokyo.

This was not how Schmidt nor Best would have dreamed of bowing out. It was not the Ireland that swept all before them last year, that followed the Grand Slam with a series win in Australia before that maiden home success over the All Blacks.

The accuracy that had been their trademark was absent, Andy Farrell’s defence was split through the middle and out wide and even Johnny Sexton missed touch twice from penalties, Joey Carbery replaced him and did the same.

Even when they looked like they had finally found a way through, Robbie Henshaw dropped Carbery’s perfect grubber through. Thankfully, he made amends barely a minute later, powering under the posts to break Ireland’s duck ten minutes from time.

Best had already taken his leave by that point, departing just after the hour to the rapturous applause his career so richly deserves. The emotion on his face had been there for all to see during the anthems – a man who has given so much to Irish rugby, lacing them up one last time.

That emotion was still evident in the post-match press conference, the voice cracking as he reflected on the final minutes of his playing career.

“I’m unbelievably upset that I’ll never pull on a green jersey except to support,” he said.

“I’m tired, sore, upset. Right now, you focus on what’s just gone and we are incredibly disappointed. We have a lot of big characters in that changing room. It’s not often you get a changing room that is deadly silent but that was what happened. There were big men in tears. That’s what happens when you put your heart and soul into it.

“There will be time to reflect on what has been an incredible few years for this team. Right now it’s focused on the disappointment but we will look back.”

Schmidt was similarly reflective, understandably frustrated at the way his team could not produce their best when they needed it most.

“You have to be absolutely nailed on to topple them and we weren’t nailed on. That’s how you get a 30-point differential on the scoreboard,” he said.

“Heartbroken wouldn’t be too far away from how I feel and how the players feel now.”

Even Steve Hansen was keen to pay his respects to the pair.

“Rory Best and Joe Schmidt have both had magnificent careers in their respective roles for Ireland,” said the All Blacks coach.

“They have made a difference in their times. Both those guys are finishing up and we’d like to acknowledge publicly what an incredible job they have done.”

This marked the end of the line for Best and Schmidt and the Ireland we see in next year’s Guinness Six Nations will have a different feel to it.

Farrell will be the man at the helm, a new captain and a hooker will fill the massive void left by Best.

On a night where they shipped seven tries, it feels insincere to search for positives.

But you look at the team that finished the game, with 12 players under the age of 30. Jordan Larmour had two early cameos before finishing the match at full-back, showing off his quick feet.

James Ryan, Garry Ringrose and Jacob Stockdale have all got a World Cup experience under their belts.

They will come back from this, starting at home to Scotland next February.

New Zealand, meanwhile, will march on in their bid for a third successive title.

Next up is a tantalising semi-final against England. Both teams broke the 40-point barrier on Saturday and they will meet on this stage for the first time in two decades.

Down in Oita, England will have been watching after they powered past Australia.

There is still a week to build up to that game, however.

For this night in Tokyo, thoughts were with Best and Schmidt.

The end may not have been the one they wanted, but that does not take away everything they have achieved with Ireland.