Saturday 24 September 2016

Joe Schmidt plays down Highlanders link but future still uncertain

Published 17/06/2016 | 02:30

Joe Schmidt alongside Conor Murray during a press conference at the Sandton Sun Hotel in Johannesburg Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Joe Schmidt alongside Conor Murray during a press conference at the Sandton Sun Hotel in Johannesburg Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Joe Schmidt says he has made no commitment to Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark about a return to New Zealand despite confirming the franchise had made contact with him.

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According to the Ireland coach, he has yet to reach a decision on his future beyond his current contract with the IRFU which expires at the end of next season.

Schmidt has the option of remaining with Ireland until the 2019 World Cup and has pledged to inform the union of his intentions after the three-Test tour of South Africa.

Clark revealed last weekend that he had spoken to the Ireland coach and a number of New Zealand coaches based overseas about the vacancy that opens up in 2018. But Schmidt said his focus was purely on guiding his side to a historic series win over the Springboks.

"This is the full focus of my attention and the one thing I want to do is, no matter what happens in the future, is leave Irish rugby in as good a shape as possible," he said. "If that's this time next year or if it's in three years' time, I'm not sure.

Effort

"This is something we've got to try to do and we're investing a lot of time and effort into, as are the players, into trying to be as good with a broader group as we can be. This was always a chance for us to broaden (the squad). The coaching group, as it is, are in great shape. I have less and less to do with it.

"I have made absolutely no commitment to the Highlanders, I've made no commitment to anyone other than my current employers."

Schmidt has made five changes to his team for the second Test, with Tadhg Furlong preferred to Mike Ross and Quinn Roux handed his debut as Rhys Ruddock replaces Jordi Murphy.

Stuart Olding and Craig Gilroy come into the backs. Tiernan O'Halloran and Sean Reidy could win their first caps off the bench.

South Africa, meanwhile, have made just two enforced changes to their team for the second Test as Elton Jantjes replaces the injured Pat Lambie and Pieter-Steph du Toit comes in for Lood de Jager in the second-row.

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