Joe Schmidt has been a transformative personality in Irish sport. His arrival from Clermont in 2010 was a sliding doors moment for Irish rugby. He forever changed how Irish players play the game and how Irish coaches coach the game. He's Ireland's best ever rugby coach. This is not up for debate. We won the Grand Slam, two Six Nations Championships and beat the All Blacks twice under Schmidt.
Schmidt established an impeccable standard of consistency, which is why this World Cup will be remembered as Ireland's most disappointing World Cup in a century of disappointing World Cups. The buck for this staggering underperformance has to stop with Joe. Today was the nadir of his reign. The knock ons. The kicks that didn't make touch. The missed tackles. The turnovers. His best Ireland teams were built on a dogmatic attention to detail so it must have been maddening for Schmidt to watch Ireland get undone by a litany of basic mistakes in his final game as Ireland manager.
Schmidt had two World Cups to get Ireland over the quarterfinal hump and he failed twice. Rightly or wrongly, he'll always be given a mulligan for 2015 because of all the injuries Ireland suffered in the France game. But his reputation as a coach should be shaped by this World Cup. This was supposed to be easy. Ireland were drawn with Scotland and Japan in the group stages. All the planning, all the preparation, all for nothing. And most disappointingly, it was obvious to everyone in August that something was wrong. Two months later, the talk of Schmidt being billed as Steve Hansen's successor is gone. You imagine Warren Gatland was watching today's match from Oita with a wry smile. Gatland was never appreciated on this island and all going to plan, he'll lead Wales to another Rugby World Cup semifinal tomorrow. We thought we had found the coaching messiah but Ireland's World Cup calendar is still stuck on Groundhog Day.
Yes, the All Blacks seemed to peak today, but Ireland never should have been in this position. Ireland had a very winnable game against Japan and Schmidt opted not to start his most important player. Maybe it vastly oversimplifies rugby to say Ireland would have beat Japan if Sexton started, but it seems like a wildly audacious gamble in hindsight. Would starting Ireland's in-form back - Jordan Larmour - instead of 33-year-old Rob Kearney have made any difference today? Probably not, but too many of Ireland's players seemed to be in the starting XV on reputation, not form. This year, the form arrow for the vast majority of the Ireland players has been pointing downwards. That's on Schmidt as well. Because Ireland were so bad at the World Cup, every decision that got us to 46-14 --- from the succession plan with Andy Farrell to the gamble on Robbie Henshaw's fitness ---- deserve scrutiny.
It was strange to listen to the Eir postmatch coverage, and hear a litany of excuses offered up for Ireland's poor World Cup, such as injuries to Dan Leavy and Joey Carbery. Ireland have looked tired and one-dimensional since their first World Cup warm-up fixture. After Ireland lost to Japan, Stephen Ferris made an interesting comment about how Ireland players seemed to struggle with such prolonged exposure to Schmidt and his approach in the 2015 World Cup. For all of his greatness as a coach, maybe Schmidt's methods are not suited to extended tournament play.
It's all unfortunate because Schmidt seems like one of most decent people in rugby. Irish rugby will be much poorer for his departure. But something broke in this Ireland team after that All Blacks win last November and he announced he wouldn't be returning. His team ran out of ideas and energy. Ireland became the inconsistent, error-strewn team of yore. Schmidt had a reputation for being ruthless in post-match video analysis sessions. In the wake of Ireland's terrible World Cup, the spotlight will shift uncomfortably in his direction.