Departing Schmidt 'heartbroken' over error-strewn Ireland farewell

Tokyo (AFP) –


Departing Ireland coach Joe Schmidt said he was "heartbroken" at his team's humiliating 46-14 defeat against New Zealand on Saturday and could not explain why they made so many mistakes.

After his last match in charge, Schmidt admitted he would carry the "scars" of losses like that which condemned Ireland to yet another quarter-final exit -- their seventh.

"Heartbroken wouldn't be too far away from how I feel and how the players feel," said the Kiwi coach.

"I don't really have an excuse for it or a reason for it," he said, asked about a high error count by the men in green who missed a series of touch kicks and knocked on several balls in attack.

"They are good enough to win games without us inviting them in. It was incredibly disappointing," admitted Schmidt.

He said he felt his team was "a bit flat" and pointed the finger at some of the injuries his squad had suffered, meaning that the team was not settled until late in the week.

However, he also paid tribute to the All Blacks, who were ruthless in capitalising on Irish mistakes to set up a mouthwatering semi-final with England.

"We could have played really well and they might still have gone over the top of us. They were stifling they made it very hard for us to breathe," he said.

- 'Unbelievably upset' -

It was also the 124th and last time in an Ireland shirt for captain Rory Best, who received a rousing and sustained ovation from Irish fans despite the crushing defeat.

The Ulsterman finishes his career as Ireland's third-most capped player and the most capped forward, behind only legendary centre Brian O'Driscoll and fly-half Ronan O'Gara.

In touching scenes after the game, the hooker led his team through a tunnel of both sets of players then brought his children onto the pitch to soak up the cheers for the final time.

Asked how he felt, he replied: "Right now, tired, sore, upset."

"We have a lot of big characters in that changing room and it's not often you get a changing room in dead silence. There were big men in tears and that's what happens when you put your heart and soul into everything," he said.

"I'm unbelievably upset with the thought that I'll never put on a green jersey again except to go and support," he said, his voice catching.

Schmidt acknowledged that his record would be tinged with never getting past a World Cup quarter-final and stressed that his team had focused all their efforts on that, even during the Six Nations.

But he hoped that his work with Ireland -- including two historic wins over the All Blacks -- would be looked on favourably.

"I think when I get some distance to reflect, I think it's 75-odd Test matches and we've won 75 percent of them," he said.

"There have been some incredibly good days and I don't think they get washed away by two defeats and days where we're incredibly disappointed."