Joe Schmidt paid tribute to Warren Gatland after the Wales coach led his team to a third Grand Slam with victory over Ireland in Cardiff.
In typical fashion, Schmidt was quick to congratulate his Wales counterpart with the pair bowing out of the Guinness Six Nations in the clash at Principality Stadium.
He said: “I’d like to take my hat off to Wales and Gats. To be 12 years as an international coach… I’ve done six and it has damn near killed me, so I don’t know how Gats has managed 12!”
Ireland headed into the final round of the Championship with hopes of defending their title still alive – needing to win at Principality Stadium and have Scotland do them a favour at Twickenham – but Hadleigh Parkes’ try after 70 seconds and 20 points from the boot of Gareth Anscombe condemned them to a 25-7 defeat.
That meant Wales clinched the Grand Slam – their fourth of the Six Nations era and Warren Gatland’s third as head coach – while Ireland had to settle for third place in the final reckoning, a year after securing their own incredible Grand Slam.
But amidst talk that his side’s performance in this year’s Guinness Six Nations could constitute a disappointment back home, Schmidt defended his troops and told supporters to trust in his process.
“We can only perform in the two 40-minute windows to the best of our ability, then the narrative will be whatever pundits and journalists put out there,” explained Schmidt at his post-match press conference.
“We would certainly encourage the genuine supporter not to lose faith in the team. The team will definitely grow from this.
“You only have to look back a year to see that England had gone back-to-back in the Championship and then they finished fifth.
“We’ve won 23 of our last 26 Test matches – we’ve finished third in the Guinness Six Nations and once upon a time that wasn’t the catastrophe that it is today for Ireland.
“The fact we’ve won three of the previous five makes it less than it should be. We’ll be the first to put our hands up and say that’s not as good as we want to be but we’ll reflect, rebuild and go forward.
“I’d like to think the genuine supporter will still be 100 per cent behind us.”
Schmidt will step down as Ireland head coach after the World Cup later this year and this was not the way he would have wanted his final Guinness Six Nations match in the role to have played out.
But his tenure as a whole has been an incredible success and he concedes that his side were unable to cope with a Wales side spurred on by the prospect of a Grand Slam in Cardiff.
“The score got away from us but I don’t think we were as far off the mark as we were at the start of the Championship [in defeat to England],” added Schmidt.
“Gats [Warren Gatland] spoke about that extra five per cent you get when you’re going for a Grand Slam – that really difficult task that you’re desperately keen to achieve.
“We benefitted from it last year at Twickenham – the energy that it gives you and the belief you’ve got are key. I thought they defended well and our discipline wasn’t quite what we needed it to be.”