Chiefs join race to take Schmidt back to New Zealand
Super Rugby outfit the Chiefs have publicly signalled their interest in making Joe Schmidt their new head coach, should he opt not to renew his contract with the IRFU.
Schmidt is currently in New Zealand, where he is expected to decide on his future. His IRFU contract runs until June 2017 and although a fresh deal is on the table, family issues may well see him return home.
Last month, the Otago Highlanders made it clear that Schmidt was firmly on their radar, and now their Hamilton-based rivals the Chiefs have joined the race.
The Chiefs' current coach is the highly regarded Dave Rennie and although he has two years left on his contract, there is a clause in it that could see him leave after next season's Super Rugby campaign.
Like Schmidt, Rennie is expected to coach the All Blacks in the future, and he has made no secret of his desire to one day coach in Europe.
Current New Zealand coach Steve Hansen is expected to stay on until the 2019 World Cup ,which would mean that Schmidt (below) and Rennie's ambitions of coaching their home country would have to wait for at least a few years.
Schmidt is expected to reveal in the coming weeks whether or not he will stay on with Ireland until the World Cup, and as the Chiefs and the Highlanders have proved, there will be plenty of interest in his signature.
"Joe is definitely a guy we'd be interested in having a discussion with," Chiefs chief executive Andrew Flexman said. "I've been made aware of the fact there's the potential for him to look at moving home next year and there's been some attention around the Highlanders having some interest in him.
"If he was to return, given his pedigree and personal circumstances and the fact he's coached in the Bay of Plenty, he's certainly a guy we'd love to talk to.
"Given what he's achieved in his coaching career if we are looking to appoint a new head coach then he'd be an obvious candidate."
Flexman made it clear that his preference was for Rennie to see out his contract but the club is already preparing for his potential departure.
"We're turning our minds to life after Dave now, albeit the hope being that at the very least we're not going to have to confront that situation until the end of 2018," he explained.
"There's no doubt he's got interest from Europe - and there's some serious money circulating in that market these days.
"It's probably 50/50. I don't think he's hell-bent on leaving. Such is the nature of the man he craves success and won't walk into a step-up that's not ideal. It depends a lot on what's put in front of him internationally and where he's at with his family."
The Chiefs are 12 points clear at the top of their conference and have been playing a thrilling brand of rugby. Schmidt is seen as the ideal coach to take over should Rennie leave.
Reports in New Zealand have suggested that the IRFU may look at Rennie as a possible replacement for Schmidt.
The 52-year-old is in his fourth year with the Chiefs and has previously coached at the Hurricanes as well as the New Zealand U-20s.