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Schmidt still best man for job


Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt speaks to his players ahead of the game. at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt speaks to his players ahead of the game. at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt speaks to his players ahead of the game. at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile

A coach is a teacher in a tracksuit.

The old school headmaster at the heart of Joe Schmidt's intellect would probably give Ireland a C-Grade for 'could do better' from this Six Nations.

Given the circumstances of Paul O'Connell's retirement - it simply cannot be overstated - injury to captain candidates Peter O'Mahony and Seán O'Brien, as well as Tommy Bowe, Iain Henderson, the Kearney brothers, Rob and Dave, and Luke Fitzgerald, the return of two wins, one draw against Wales, a one-point loss to France and a brave bow to England is about as good as could be expected.

The commitment and character of the players has been first-class.

The scope of Schmidt's role to cover defence and attack has been deemed necessary in order to employ Andy Farrell once his 'gardening leave' is complete.

It has been disturbing to listen to all the rhetoric around the New Zealander's decisions of late.

For example, there was an outcry, from some quarters, at the decision not to give Garry Ringrose his Ireland debut in the last two months, to drop Stuart McCloskey after his Ireland debut against England and to drop Josh van der Flier for Tommy O'Donnell after two 80 minutes for his country.

Every decision Schmidt makes is based on rugby rationale, logic and balance.

There has been room made to include the likes of the five new caps as well as Ringrose, Matt Healy, Jack O'Donoghue, Stuart Olding, Quinn Roux, Andrew Conway and Dave Foley out at Carton House.

Just because these names are not in a green shirt does not mean that their games have not been forensically analysed by Schmidt.

If they don't excel, or tick certain boxes, under friendly fire a Ireland camp, they will not do so at Stade de France, Twickenham or even the Aviva Stadium.

And the last place you want to let your family down is in your own house.

What was uncovered through these last two months had and will have repercussions for Ireland into the future.

It is very easy to trot out the claim that Ringrose should be given his head when his coach is more concerned with keeping the Leinster centre under wraps until he is ready.

This is not Schmidt's ego at work. This is his care for the long-term future of a player he rates highly.

The unbelievably humble, grounded 21-year-old will be the first to 'fess up' that he still has much to learn about the game.

It is not just the Joe Schmidt way, but the Irish way to release players into the wild and unforgiving environment of international rugby when they are as close to ready as possible.

The prime example is that of Robbie Henshaw.

Schmidt resisted the bull-headed calls for the Connacht back to be parachuted into the cut and thrust of international rugby until the time was right.

The inclusion of the current Over-30s Ireland club in Rory Best, Mike Ross, Donnacha Ryan, Jamie Heaslip, Eoin Reddan, Rob Kearney et al is necessary for the simple fact that Schmidt has not been convinced the alternatives will deliver something better.

"One of the best things about having some experience - sure we have some aged members of the club - is that those guys have a really important IP (Intellectual Property) that they pass on to those young players," said Schmidt.

"To suddenly say, 'right, he's passed his sell-by date, throw him out.' Sometimes you get some real benefit from those guys being around."

"We were desperately gluing Drico' together in his last year (2014) not just for what he delivered on the pitch, but for what he passed on to Robbie Henshaw.

"Robbie didn't play in that tournament at all," he said.

"When Robbie did play in the next tournament he was one of the stand-out players and he continues to play really well for us."

All anyone has to do is turn back to the Autumn of 2010 when there were calls for Schmidt's head at Leinster after losing three of the first four rounds of the League.

The reason Leinster were slow to grow is that Schmidt's level of detail and demand was far beyond what any of his players had experienced.

These demands remain the same.

That is why captain Rory Best conceded Ireland had lowered their standards at training to ease new players into the system.