independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Schmidt the right man in right place at the right time

THE smiles and handshakes that greeted Joe Schmidt's official unveiling as Ireland's new head coach yesterday said much about the well of goodwill that will offer him nourishment in the weeks and months that lie ahead.

Schmidt is the right man in the right place at the right time. The feeling of satisfaction that the IRFU have done the right thing and put their faith in the right man is universal.

That goodwill he has accumulated in his years with Leinster will afford him time. It is logical to expect he will need that time to mould and shape the team to his liking, to ensure he is represented by players sharing the depth of his passion.

He will, though, be afforded only a little time and nothing in Schmidt's previous existence can possibly have adequately prepared him for what lies ahead.

His record as a coach is incredible ... at club level. Now he faces the ultimate test where his every move, his every decision, his every utterance, will be examined minutely, analysed exhaustively and judged comprehensively.

Challenging

And the only criterion that will matter will be the most challenging of all – results, the one element he can never guarantee.

He has a maximum of four games left with Leinster. Their season will end on either May 17 (Amlin final) or May 25 (Pro12 final), after which thoughts of Ireland will take precedence.

He will have been enthused by the public commitment of IRFU chief executive Philip Browne that he will be given the financial backing to recruit coaches of his choosing.

Schmidt doesn't officially take over as head coach until after Ireland's summer tour to North America but he will travel as an observer. It is also safe to assume he will heavily influence who travels to play the Tests against the US Eagles on June 8 and against Canada on June 15.

It is entirely possible he has already done this but it is not fanciful to suggest that at some stage over the coming days and weeks, Schmidt will pen a list of what must be done and what must be achieved to ensure his tenure is a successful one.

It is inconceivable he won't target a first ever win over the All Blacks when his native New Zealand play in Dublin in November, while he will seek to write his name into the history books by leading Ireland to what would be a third Grand Slam title.

The targets set by the IRFU will be straightforward. Schmidt's Ireland must win matches. Below are six issues that will be uppermost in his mind.

1 Appoint a coaching staff

Schmidt is a hands-on coach and as well as determining the overall style of Ireland's play, he is likely to take personal charge of the attack.

It is possible Les Kiss might be kept on in a defensive role but a new forwards coach is expected to be recruited. He will surely look to coaches of the ilk of former All Black John Mitchell, currently technical advisor to the Golden Lions. A probable price tag of €400,000 might be too much. Leicester Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill might come cheaper, while perhaps former Australia forwards coach Jim Williams might also come into the reckoning as he would also command less than a Mitchell-type figure.

Clermont coach Vern Cotter has a year to go on his contract there but maybe a chance to reunite with Schmidt, although in a role reversal, might attract him. He'd have to take a pay cut though!

2 Convince Brian O'Driscoll to stay on

Schmidt will surely use the lure of one last crack at the All Blacks in November to tempt O'Driscoll. It is probable Schmidt is the only person who will be able to convince the Ireland legend to stay on for next season.

If he can convince O'Driscoll to sign up for one more jaunt then it's only 12 months to the World Cup ... stranger things have happened.

3 Make a statement

He can do this through his choice of captain. Jamie Heaslip was appointed for the Six Nations and Schmidt could deem him the man to lead Ireland. If that is the case, he should announce Heaslip as his captain through to the World Cup. Ireland needs a firm hand at the tiller and needs direction. There was an obvious disconnect between coach and captain this season. Schmidt needs to avoid falling into that trap.

4 Be consistent

Ireland's lack of consistency under Declan Kidney was an issue. Schmidt has to bring what is a talented squad on. He has to ensure they play attractive and effective rugby. This is what he achieved on succeeding Michael Cheika at Leinster. Ireland's attacking play has suffered in comparison to Leinster in recent seasons.

Can Schmidt deliver winning results and consistency?

5 win the 2014 six nations

It is not outrageous to suggest that had Ireland enjoyed better luck on the injury front this season, they might have been contenders for the championship. Schmidt will look to use that as a motivation for the 2014 championship.

6 Target the world cup

A place in the semi-final in England in 2015 must be the minimum requirement. Ireland's win against Australia in 2011 was brilliant but when it wasn't backed up by victory in the quarter-final, it left a hollow aftertaste.

It was encouraging to see Schmidt's natural bonhomie was very much in evidence yesterday and it was a positive start to his tenure.

He coped and eased the pressure he must surely have been feeling by regularly illustrating his considerable capacity for good humour, never letting an opportunity for a pithy one-liner slip by, especially when referencing his previous plans to spend time with his children.

"I don't know if they want to spend a couple of weeks with me. That was the plan for this summer," he joked.

His performance was capricious, typically understated and unquestionably sincere. One hopes, for his sake, the well of goodwill is regularly replenished by the positive results he and Ireland needs.

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