independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Joe Schmidt warns Sean O'Brien move to France could shorten his career

Ireland coach fears for Leinster star if he's tempted to follow Jonny Sexton

Joe Schmidt has warned Sean O'Brien about the possible demands which could be placed on him if he moved to France

JOE SCHMIDT has warned that a move to France by Sean O'Brien could shorten his career.

The Ireland coach referenced the playing time of Jonathan Sexton in the first 10 weeks of his Top 14 season and implied  it should be a salutary lesson for the Leinster back-row forward.

"Johnny has played nine games in the last 10 weeks," said Schmidt. "Sean has played 140 minutes of rugby so far. I'd hate to think what Johnny's numbers are.

"Sean – and Jamie Heaslip – plays in such an attritional position and he is so combative that going somewhere like France will shorten his career.

"I know French clubs and while they might say they'll look after you, they don't have the same motivation as the provinces have in Ireland.

"The coaches of the provincial teams in Ireland know that there is also a bigger picture with regard to the national side. That's not the case in France where a coach is solely focused on his team's results.

"For me, the major risk for players leaving the Irish set-up is not only that we lose them overseas but that they have shorter careers as a result."

Schmidt's comments regarding O'Brien (right) and Heaslip do come at a timely moment as discussions are ongoing between the IRFU and certain players who are out of contract.

In O'Brien's case, the discussions began back in June, according to Schmidt, who was speaking on Newstalk's 'Off The Ball' programme yesterday.

As Ireland coach, Schmidt naturally wants direct control over most, if not all, his players and he attempted to explain why the contract negotiations between the IRFU and players are invariably allowed to run down to the final months and weeks of their current deals.

He was responding to a comparison between the practice in rugby towards players' contracts and that applying to professional soccer players, whose contracts are rarely allowed to run into the final year. His response was less than convincing: "There are examples where the generalisation doesn't fit it. Leinster signed Ian Madigan on for a further two years when he still had a year to go.

"The other element that has to be factored in, and it's a reality of the profession, is that you're predicting future performances."

"What you're paying for is playing services. Those playing services are diminished if there is injury and unfortunately it (injury) is part of rugby. Twenty per cent of your rugby squad is injured on average at any one time."

"Some of those injuries are very minor and come back but recently we have had some guys who have had to retire through injury.

"Rugby is more attritional than soccer and for a lot of the people making those comparisons there's a bit of naivety in the attrition levels of both sports."

Away from the continuing contract negotiations, Schmidt revealed that he will begin to whittle his original 42-man squad down to a more manageable figure this week.

It is, he admitted, not a task he is looking forward to but is one he absolutely will not delegate to one of his lieutenants – either Les Kiss or John Plumtree.

Atmosphere

"It is important we create a positive atmosphere within the Ireland camp and it is important that the coaching staff is at the nucleus of that," Schmidt said.

"Sometimes that is simply being consistent and honest with players. That includes phoning them up and telling them that they're not making it this time and explaining why."

Schmidt was also at pains to elaborate on how he plans to hold himself to those ideals when dealing with players.

"If I say to a player that he needs to work on certain aspects of his game and that if he does he will get a chance, it is important I follow through," he said. "That lends itself to a more trusting environment.

"When people talk about there being a 'toxic environment' in some places it is usually because double standards are being employed, where players are being selected despite not adhering to a team's code or not working on what they're supposed to.

"That's why I'll be telephoning those players who are going to miss out and explaining to them exactly why."

Schmidt again kicked to touch and confirmed he will not be naming the captain until the players are in camp. He did, however, narrow the field down somewhat: "We genuinely don't know who it will be yet but it will come from the core group of six to eight senior players."

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