Joe Schmidt has insisted Ireland will be at their best for this year’s Rugby World Cup after his men were comprehensively beaten by Grand Slam winners Wales.
Warren Gatland guided Wales to a brutally one-sided 25-7 victory at the Principality Stadium, with the hosts claiming a third Six Nations clean sweep under their Kiwi head coach.
Hadleigh Parkes bagged an early try and Gareth Anscombe slotted six penalties as Ireland had no answers to Wales’ uncompromising approach.
But head coach Schmidt remains adamant his men will be ready and firing come the World Cup in Japan.
He said: “For us we would certainly encourage the genuine supporter not to lose faith with the team. The team will definitely turn up in Japan. And we will grow a bit from this.
“We haven’t been catastrophic but we haven’t been quite as good as we needed to be. We’ve lost three Tests in our last 26. But to lose today is really tough.
“We’ve won 23 of our last 26 Test matches, we’ve finished third in the Six Nations. 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 that’s not as good as we want to be.
“We’ll be the first to take our hats off and acknowledge the performance that Wales put in today. And then we’ll reflect, rebuild and go forward.
“And as I said earlier, I would like to think that the genuine supporter will still be 100 per cent behind us.”
Wales’ victory gave Gatland a third Grand Slam in his final Six Nations campaign at the helm.
Schmidt added: “I’d like to take my hat off to Wales, and Warren Gatland. To be 12 years an international coach – I’ve done six and it’s damn near killed me. To get this one, you could see what it meant to them.”
Ireland scaled unprecedented heights with a Six Nations Grand Slam and a fine 16-9 victory over back-to-back world champions New Zealand in a stellar 2018.
But the reigning world team of the year, coach of the year in Schmidt and player of the year in Johnny Sexton have all slipped from that lofty perch.
Wales leapfrogged Ireland into second place in the World Rugby rankings with their stunning win in Cardiff, leaving Schmidt’s men with much to ponder ahead of the autumn’s World Cup.
Fly-half Sexton had another bad-tempered afternoon in a sloppy performance, at one point punching the ball away and audibly venting his frustrations under the nose of the referee.
Asked if that countenance causes problems for Rory Best’s diplomacy as captain, Schmidt replied by simply suggesting Sexton’s frustrations were well-founded.
“Well I think the captain was trying to have the same discourse with the referee,” Schmidt said.
“There was frustration out there and when we review the game we’ll have those frustrations.
“But I do think he’s been really positive through the week and he’s building his way forward. He’s been a linchpin for us in so many positive wins.”