New Zealand conqueror Schmidt: No chasm between hemispheres
Fresh from halting the previously unstoppable All Blacks, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has played down talk of a disparity in standards between rugby union's heartlands.
The southern hemisphere provided all four semi-finalists at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, New Zealand beating South Africa and Australia overcoming Argentina, before the All Blacks defeated the Wallabies in the decider at Twickenham in October to retain their crown.
Steve Hansen's world champions last month became the first tier-one nation to record 18 consecutive Test wins when they completed a Bledisloe Cup whitewash over Australia, having already sealed the Rugby Championship title with a 100 per cent record.
But they finally came undone on Saturday, losing to Ireland for the first time in the unfamiliar surrounds of Chicago's Soldier Field.
And while New Zealand had been disrupted by injuries, Schmidt claims the All Blacks' long-awaited off-day was proof there is less of a gulf in world rugby than first feared.
"The reality is that we did get them when they were a little bit vulnerable," he said.
"I remember after the World Cup and people said 'why is there such a big gap between north and south?' But there's no chasm there.
"It only takes a little bit of fluctuation for someone to be off their game and another team to knock them over.
"I think rugby is such an inter-dependant game that as soon as one of the cogs gets shifted slightly, or they're not quite in unison with the other cogs, the wheel doesn't turn too well."
New Zealander Schmidt expects his countrymen to respond when they face Ireland again at Aviva Stadium on November 19.
"I certainly would sympathise with the All Blacks a little bit because that wasn't the All Blacks team that we've seen through the Rugby Championship and I'd have no doubt Brodie Retallick will be fit to contest the match in Dublin - and he'll change a fair bit of what they can deliver at lineout time," he said.