independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Schmidt taught me more than anyone – O'Driscoll

If the IRFU needed any evidence that their cack-handed succession plan for the position of Ireland head coach was causing turbulence in the Leinster camp, the evidence was plain to see at the club's press briefing yesterday.

Leinster have clearly been rattled by the alarmingly swift manner in which the enforced removal of Declan Kidney has now left their chief, Joe Schmidt, utterly vulnerable to the Union's flirtatious advances.

Not only are Leinster going for a double while Schmidt is having his head understandably turned by the IRFU's propositioning, but they are also fully aware that they, too, will soon have a vacancy to fill. At what stage, nobody yet seems to know.

One of the chief contenders would appear to be the highly regarded assistant Jono Gibbes, of whom the Irish captain Jamie Heaslip has routinely proffered the highest of praise.

Yet, when asked whether he would be interested in the gig, the Kiwi reacted as if he had just spotted one of his academy recruits rolling a Duma cigarette behind kitman Johnny O'Hagan's shed.

"Not really – I'm good," he demurred, before later advancing, unconvincingly: "No, I haven't thought about it, to be honest." Then again, it is difficult for someone to advance a claim for a position that is yet to be advertised.

Of the post that is up for grabs, former Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll pointedly insisted that, strangely, he had not been approached by the IRFU to give his opinion on the matter, although he did welcome the input of his predecessor, Keith Wood.

"I didn't speak to the IRFU," he confirmed. On Wood's role, he was a little more expansive. "It was smart from the point of view that he is in touch with the professional game although he has been out of it for 10 years.

"I would speak to Woody on occasion and he still understands the nuances of the game and how it has evolved over this last decade since his retirement.

RETIRED

"He is very pro-Ireland. He is certainly in no shape or form bitter about the success some of the guys managed to achieve.

"After he retired in 2003 we went on and managed to win a few Triple Crowns, won a Slam, but there is no bitterness at all.

"He just wants Ireland to do well and that is the sort of guy you want on any committee."

Unlike Gibbes, however, O'Driscoll remains to be as convinced as seemingly every man, woman and child on the island that his current Leinster coach will soon ascend to the Irish throne. When asked would he prefer an Irishman or yet another overseas voice to command a provincial dressing-room, O'Driscoll delivered a straight bat of which a politician would be proud.

"I don't know, has a decision been made? I haven't heard any statement from the Union yet about coaches been selected or anything, so as far as I'm concerned at this moment in time, Joe Schmidt is our coach.

"When that changes, we'll be able to talk about incoming coaches or replacements. That's where we're at."

But surely Schmidt is the outstanding candidate for the Ireland job?

"He was one of the three candidates," O'Driscoll replied. "Is he outstanding? I don't really know the other guys, so it would be unfair for me to comment on their qualities. But I do know his qualities and they are plentiful."

He did hint that the identity of the next coach may impact on whether or not he decides to extend his playing career for another year – for that to happen Schmidt's arrival is deemed to be an automatic trigger – but he did admit to there being other issues to consider.

"Maybe that is a factor in things for sure, but there is more to it than that," he offered.

"I'll think about all the things in the summer. It will be a factor, depending on who comes in."

Asked to rate Schmidt's abilities, O'Driscoll was less hesitant, ranking his influence higher than that of any coach he has worked with in the last decade, an impressive array that features Eddie O'Sullivan, Declan Kidney and Michael Cheika.

"Pretty high," he confirmed. "I've really enjoyed my last three years under him. I think I've learned a huge amount.

"I probably learned more in those three years than I did from any other coach in the previous 10. I look forward to coming in and hearing what he has to say."

impossible

Standing around jaw-jawing with gossipy hacks is an almost impossible position for the Leinster staff to be in, uncomfortably wedged as they are between two coaching succession plans they can have no act or part to play in. All that and Lions speculation too.

"I think definitely with the Lions stuff the lads are probably sick of it at this stage and are looking forward to (the squad announcement) next Tuesday one way or another. At least you won't have that element of the unknown hanging over us.

"We also have the possibility of losing our head coach here and having to get a new one – and then a new Irish coach.

"It is pretty all-consuming, but none of these things are in our control as players, so we've just got to get on with it and do what we can do best, and that is out on the field."

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