Friday 30 September 2016

Tony Ward: Deal is a well-timed boost for management, players and fans

Published 23/07/2015 | 02:30

Joe Schmidt yesterday extended his deal with the IRFU
Joe Schmidt yesterday extended his deal with the IRFU

If it's good enough for New Zealand, it's good enough for us.

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Back in December All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was granted an extension to his contract taking him beyond the upcoming World Cup and embracing the Lions tour to New Zealand in 2017.

It also happens to coincide with the midpoint between global tournaments thereby allowing Hansen the opportunity to oversee the transition from this year's World Cup to Japan 2019.

It's common sense all round. The same comment now applies to Ireland as Joe Schmidt - second only to Hansen in terms of silverware and coaching achievement in the modern game - now signs on the dotted line taking him up to June 30, 2017.

In addition to this year's World Cup Schmidt will now oversee the 2016 and 2017 Six Nations tournaments.

And while no details were revealed by the IRFU about a possible early release clause - ie post the 2017 Six Nations should the most popular Kiwi in this country be offered the Lions head coaching position - it is not difficult to suspect a mutually agreed clause is already in place

For now, however, this is a great news story for Irish rugby. The timing too could hardly be better as the 2015 global tournament fast approaches. IRFU chief executive Philip Browne probably summed up the relevance of this announcement best when referring to "the tremendous ambassador he is for our game and the vital asset he will continue to be over the coming years", well for the next two at least.

Security

For the man himself it provides security of tenure with the timing geared towards that Lions Test series. It may be coincidental but I suspect this two-year extension fits neatly into Schmidt's broader plan and a tilt at succeeding Hansen in overseeing the land of his birth further down the line.

All the pieces are there, it's merely a matter now of fitting them neatly into place.

From a Union perspective it provides a timely boost for players, for management and for the public at large. Expectation is high. That comes with the territory after steering Ireland from eighth to third in the World Rugby rankings.

We are where we are primarily because of the man currently at the helm.

Slowly but surely since taking up the reins in 2013 he has extended the squad using some 56 players, including 14 new caps in that time. It is a reflection of the personality and the meticulous manner in which he goes about his business but behind that angelic smile is a desire to win and a ruthlessness that cuts deep.

Like all the top coaches in the various sports around the world he likes to do things his way, perhaps overly so at times. When you are winning very few question that right and with 14 wins from the 18 Tests played under his stewardship nobody has to date.

This World Cup offers us our best chance yet of a top-four finish, at very least. That expectation comes with the territory, anything less and it will be deemed a failure.

The 'F' word doesn't figure in the Schmidt vocabulary. Hansen may lead the way but in Schmidt we have the best man in the most important position.

Irish Independent

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