Thursday 19 October 2017

Tony Ward: A good news story just when we desperately needed one

'I am, a huge admirer of Schmidt. He is an excellent communicator with a good sense of humour and a public persona which reflects well on the governing body and its game, but behind that exterior is a ruthless determination to succeed' Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
'I am, a huge admirer of Schmidt. He is an excellent communicator with a good sense of humour and a public persona which reflects well on the governing body and its game, but behind that exterior is a ruthless determination to succeed' Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

They say timing is everything, and while it may not have been the best-kept secret in the world, the news that Joe Schmidt has signed a new contract with the IRFU to continue as head coach up until the end of the 2019 World Cup could hardly be better timed.

It's been a tough time for everyone involved in Irish rugby since the premature passing of Anthony Foley shocked not just the game but the nation to its core.

Three European wins at the weekend, with the Munster performance the jewel in the crown, marked the first tentative steps back to everyday life.

Add to that this confirmation that Schmidt will stay at the helm, and it makes for good news all round.

We have had some outstanding national coaches in recent times - I am thinking of Declan Kidney and Eddie O'Sullivan - but even the men who brought us a Grand Slam, and three Triple Crowns in four years respectively won't take offence when placed in the queue behind Schmidt.

The New Zealander is simply the best we've ever had.

He is not perfect, nor would he claim to be. He is a perfectionist, though, and craves control. Make no mistake when big provincial calls are made there is one man pulling the strings - and no it is not the devil incarnate, as IRFU performance director David Nucifora is so often betrayed.

We may not like all diktats emanating from Lansdowne Road - the decision not to extend Ruan Pienaar's contract with Ulster being a case in point - but between them Schmidt and Nucifora are making a fair fist of guiding Irish rugby in the right direction.

I am, a huge admirer of Schmidt. He is an excellent communicator with a good sense of humour and a public persona which reflects well on the governing body and its game, but behind that exterior is a ruthless determination to succeed.

The angelic, almost boyish looks help but as any player who has worked under Schmidt with Leinster or Ireland will testify, you never judge this book by its cover.

He is a master strategist who takes each opposing team on its unique technical merit and works on ways to dismantle it.

It may not always succeed, but I have yet to meet a player who does not believe implicitly in his tactical take ahead of any major game.

Schmidt believes in precision and in repetition - or whatever it takes to get preparation right. Perfect competitive practice makes for perfect performance.

For sure Roy Keane would approve.

Earlier this month I had the privilege of attending a coaching seminar hosted by the IRFU in the Aviva, focusing on the development of young players.

Each of the major figures in the senior management set-up from Andy Farrell through Richie Murphy to Simon Easterby, Greg Feek and on to Anthony Eddy and Jason Cowman made a really informative presentation in their own specialist area but the glue that bound it all together was Schmidt.

He spoke on the core skills to the game and specifically on connecting them. As he made his presentation I was transfixed; I was taken back in time to my own playing days, just trying to imagine what it must be like for Ireland players listening to the individual components and overall game.

We are blessed that Schmidt chose to stay. He is without doubt one of the top strategists in world rugby and despite that ruthless determination, a good guy to boot.

I doubt there will be many rugby folk not rejoicing at this decision.

This is a good news story for Irish rugby and by God we could do with that.

Like just about every decision our favourite adopted Kiwi makes, his timing is exactly right.

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