Schmidt hails hat-trick hero Stander and Ireland character in record win
Joe Schmidt waxed lyrical over the performance of hat-trick hero CJ Stander and praised Ireland's character in their record 63-10 Six Nations win over Italy.
Big-hitting Stander became the first Irish forward to score a hat-trick since the great Keith Wood 18 years ago as Ireland rebounded from an opening-round defeat to Scotland by recording their biggest win in the Five/Six Nations, surpassing their 47-point victory over the Italians in 2000.
And head coach Schmidt was delighted with Stander's all-round game, not just his unlikely try-scoring feat.
"I thought CJ was really good, the try scoring aside - and the tactical kicking! - he got through a real volume of defensive work," Schmidt said.
"He's a really positive contributor, a really willing contributor and we have a back row with big engines, they put themselves about and it certainly helps us negotiate ourselves around the pitch."
On Ireland's response to the Scotland defeat, he added: "We showed we can start well and that gives us a platform to build on.
"The players felt that [they needed to make a statement]. We know how good they can be."
Centre Robbie Henshaw [bruised quad] and full-back Rob Kearney [bruised bicep] were both brought off in the second half.
Schmidt expects Henshaw to be back in training this week, while Kearney may need a scan, but with skipper Rory Best, talismanic fly-half Jonathan Sexton and Peter O'Mahony all to come back for their next outing with France in Dublin, the New Zealander is delighted with his options.
"The great thing is they will definitely be available now for the next game and hopefully there will be some selection headaches," he said.
Italy coach Conor O'Shea acknowledged his side took a "battering" having fought bravely before succumbing to defeat against Wales last week.
"What changed was we took a battering, it was an incredibly hard day," said O'Shea.
"We are proud people sitting up here, and we don't like days like this, but we know what we have to do, and are working together.
"It was hard, it's a different challenge - that Irish team is better than the Welsh team we played, 100 per cent.
"There were mistakes we made in terms of set piece, almost inviting pressure, and we talked about Ireland's ability to hold the ball through phases, which is different to Wales' games, and in that first 20 minutes it took its physical and mental toll."