Sunday 15 December 2019

Editorial: 'Joe Schmidt - a truly great coach'

Joe Schmidt stepped down as Ireland head coach after the World Cup. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Joe Schmidt stepped down as Ireland head coach after the World Cup. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile


Ireland's former rugby head coach Joe Schmidt has provided a typically honest assessment of the country's disappointing performance at the recent Rugby World Cup finals in Japan, a result which was something of an anti-climax, to say the least, after expectations had been raised so high by the team's performances throughout the New Zealander's stellar six-year period in charge.

His view that Ireland looked too far ahead in advance and did not prioritise the Six Nations Championship, lost momentum and confidence as a result of that campaign and was unable to regain its rhythm ahead of the World Cup seems like a reasonable critique from a head coach who, such is the nature of his character, will be more disappointed than anybody by the team's performance, and accepting of his part of the responsibility for that, which he would never seek to avoid.

Schmidt has also admitted that he was nervous about the reaction he would receive on returning to Ireland after the under-performance in Japan. In a way, it is refreshing to hear a coach anticipate a negative reaction. Certainly that would be the expectation in his native New Zealand where standards and expectations are always high, and rightly so, particularly in this professional era. As one of this nation's other great sportsmen, Roy Keane, has complained with justification, Ireland's acceptance of failure, rather its embrace of moral victory, has often proved its undoing. That Schmidt, the players and followers of Ireland rugby, and sports fans in general were so disappointed by the performance in Japan is, perhaps, testament to the standard that the former head coach helped to create and leaves behind.

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Let us examine his record: three Six Nations Championships, in 2014, 2015, 2018 and a Triple Crown and Grand Slam in 2018. And who will ever forget those victories over the All-Blacks? Nor should we forget his achievements with Leinster: Heineken Cup winners in 2011 and 2012 as well as Pro12 and European Challenge Cup winners. These are remarkable achievements, built on the back of the successes of those who had gone before him. Schmidt's coaching style, his analysis of the opposition and simple game strategies based on pressure, territory, intelligent defence with aggressive line speed, and rehearsed attacking plays, undoubtedly elevated rugby in Ireland to another level. It is now for his successor to build on his remarkable achievements, dare we suggest, perhaps by also letting loose those wild spirits native to the game in Ireland.

So Joe Schmidt should not be so concerned about negative reaction. While there was undoubtedly great disappointment at what happened in Japan, there remains and always will be huge respect and affection for a coach who has helped to provide many truly great moments throughout his period in charge. Furthermore, during his tenure he was also granted Irish citizenship, an honour richly deserved. As such, he is one of our own, and we are proud of that too. Joe Schmidt will always be held in the highest regard in this country as a true leader of men.

Sunday Independent

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